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News from EPI New report documents the growing trend of cities and other localities protecting workers’ rights

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute, the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, and Local Progress details the growing involvement of cities and other localities in protecting workers in recent years. 

Some of the most noteworthy actions described include:

  • 52 localities have enacted their own higher local minimum wages.
  • At least 20 localities have created or are creating dedicated local labor agencies that enforce workers’ rights laws—including Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Saint Paul, and Seattle.
  • Certain cities have passed cutting-edge laws like fair workweek, just cause protections, and gig worker protections.
  • A number of localities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by requiring hazard and premium pay and paid sick leave.

These actions come as working people in the United States face many challenges and demand change. Outdated labor laws are skewed against workers trying to form and join unions. Public enforcement resources are inadequate, and workers increasingly are unable to bring their claims in court because of forced arbitration. Local policies and enforcement that ensure workers are able to meet their basic needs are foundational to building healthy, thriving, and equitable communities. 

“In recent years, there has been a surge of action by local governments around the country in advancing workers’ rights. Cities and other localities have become innovators and leaders in standing up for working people. Our report offers a roadmap for local leaders nationwide, from large cities to small towns, to explore the many ways they can use their powers to improve workers’ lives,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program and a senior fellow at EPI.

The report provides scores of case examples of city and local actions across the country, and outlines possible policy and enforcement options for local leaders to consider to advance workers’ rights and improve working conditions. 

“Cities have been leading the way in enshrining bold labor protections, bringing reliable schedules, better conditions, and fairer pay to countless workers across the country,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym. “In Philadelphia, I’m proud to have championed the nation’s most expansive Fair Workweek legislation, a Black Workers Matter economic recovery package, and a landmark anti-retaliation law to keep frontline workers safe during the pandemic. This report demonstrates the critical role cities and localities can play in advancing workers’ rights and will prove invaluable to municipal leaders across the country as we continue to bolster protections for working families.”

“Seattle has led the way on groundbreaking labor standardsfrom the $15 minimum wage to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to protections for TNC drivers and gig workersand our economy is healthier for it,” said Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Councilmember. “As cities across the country recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, we must invest in innovative new labor protections as well as enforcement to ensure these policies aren’t just pieces of paper. I commend Local Progress, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program for this comprehensive review of labor policies across municipalities; learning from other municipalities and continuing to push for innovation is vital.”

“Cities and localities are necessary actors in the effort to expand and enforce workers’ rightsand strong worker protections are foundational to thriving and equitable communities,” said LiJia Gong, policy and legal director at Local Progress. “There is meaningful work currently happening at the local level, but there is also untapped potential for much more local action. Local policymakers, enforcers, advocates, and community members must work together to pilot new local laws to benefit workers and their families.”