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News from EPI State attorneys general can play a key role in protecting workers’ rights

In a new paper, EPI Associate Labor Counsel Marni von Wilpert and Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow Terri Gerstein argue that state attorneys general can play a key role in advancing and defending workplace protections. Von Wilpert and Gerstein detail the many ways that state attorneys general have been involved in protecting workers’ rights—and encourage activists to work with their states’ attorneys general where possible to protect working people and enforce labor laws.

“With staffing shortages at the U.S. Department of Labor and the Trump administration failing to prioritize enforcement of our nation’s labor laws, attorneys general are in many cases stepping up to make sure that workers are protected in their states,” said von Wilpert. “From enforcement of labor laws to more general advocacy, attorneys general play a crucial role in ensuring working people get a fair shake.”

Some state attorneys general have filed lawsuits against employers who have violated workers’ rights, while others have worked alongside state labor agencies and represented them in court. Many attorneys general have also filed amicus briefs in key cases, commented on federal rulemaking, and served as public advocates for working people.

“State attorneys general are the people’s lawyers, and they are increasingly taking decisive action to protect workers’ rights,” said Gerstein. “In the face of rollbacks and weak enforcement at the federal level, state attorneys general are an important voice for working people throughout our country.”

The authors point to a number of examples, including a criminal prosecution of a Papa John’s franchisee by the New York attorney general; a joint employment case by the Massachusetts attorney general against a staffing agency and the company where workers were placed onsite; cases brought by the Illinois attorney general to challenge unlawful use of non-compete agreements, and others.