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News from EPI New policy agenda details how policymakers can restore and strengthen workers’ rights—from their first day on the job

In a comprehensive new policy agenda, EPI Policy Director Heidi Shierholz, Director of Labor Law and Policy Celine McNicholas, and Director of Government Relations Samantha Sanders offer policy solutions to an economy that’s rigged against working people starting from their first day on the job. The authors argue that “First Day Fairness” policies such as making it easier for people to join unions and collectively bargain, ensuring that workers are paid a fair wage, and banning mandatory arbitration, would give workers more leverage in the workplace, and ultimately raise wages for working people.

“Over the last four decades, workers’ rights have been systematically eroded by decisions made by policymakers on behalf of corporate interests,” said Shierholz. “Each piece of the First Day Fairness agenda works to restore fundamental rights, increasing workers’ power and pushing back on growing economic inequality.”

First, the authors argue, we must strengthen workers’ ability to join a union and collectively bargain. To do so, the authors recommend that the law authorize meaningful penalties against employers who interfere with workers who wish to form or join a union, ban states from passing so-called “right-to-work” laws, and provide a process to ensure that workers in a union can reach a contract.

“We know that unions are one of the most effective ways of increasing wages for working people—particularly among people of color and women,” said McNicholas. “If policymakers were serious about addressing stagnating wages and skyrocketing CEO pay, they would focus on passing reforms that ensure working people can join a union and that the union has the tools necessary to effectively represent them.”

First Day Fairness also addresses the issue of ensuring basic job quality for all workers. The authors recommend that policymakers raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, raise the overtime salary threshold to a meaningful level, and pass a national paid sick days standard. The agenda also addresses a growing epidemic: workers being forced to sign away their legal rights. The authors advocate a ban on mandatory arbitration agreements and most noncompete agreements.

Finally, the authors stress that we must strongly boost enforcement of all current labor and employment standards. This includes increasing penalties for violations of labor standards and requiring companies that compete for federal contracts to disclose previous workplace violations.

“Every day, employers violate labor standards by not paying the minimum wage, following safety regulations, or adhering to fair employment laws. But many of these incidents go unresolved due to lack of enforcement,” said Sanders. “Policymakers should fully fund and enforce the labor laws on the books—and pass new ones—in order to protect working people.”