On this Labor Day, we reaffirm that decent work under dignified conditions is a fundamental human right. Yet, workers face stagnant wages, with almost half the population makes less than $15 an hour, leisure time is disappearing for some while others are permanently underemployed, schedules are increasingly irregular, temp work and day labor have increased, and sub-contracting has become so ubiquitous that employees are denied benefits and legal protection and are often uncertain of who is their employer.
The cynically named “sharing economy” has also led to economic models where large companies are no longer responsible for basic labor protections or working conditions of what otherwise would be their employees. Enforcement for even the most basic labor protections in the low-wage workforce is also close to non-existent, with 40% of low-wage workers seeing their wages stolen on any given week and retaliation against workers exercising their rights being rampant.
In the face on an ongoing technological revolution that has accelerated the globalization of the economy and created this bleak landscape for workers, a positive vision for the future of work has become an urgent conversation. That vision is emerging out of workers’ efforts across the country. From Fight for Fifteen to the Fair Food Campaign and more, workers have defined what we need to build a collective commitment to offering dignified and decent work to all people who are willing and able to work.
We must radically alter our labor landscape through several simultaneous large shifts.
- A high bar national jobs program that offers work at a living wage to all in need of jobs, combined with a significant increase in the minimum wage, would dramatically change the lives of workers. Such a program would also stimulate the economy in a positive way, provide needed investment in public goods and services (particularly equitable infrastructure like public transportation and caregiving), and ensure that there is a baseline for wages and working conditions that the private market cannot go below.
- A new more realistic definition of the employer-employee relationship to prohibit companies from evading responsibility for the basic rights of workers through supply chains or “fissured” work – that is sub-contracted, temp work, other outsourcing or “sharing” economy models.
- Realigning policy and investment frameworks to the advantage of worker coops, significantly growing that sector to give Americans more choice and options in work arrangements.
This vision of decent work also has to be paired with a global trade strategy that uses trade agreements to protect the rights of workers rather than corporations (as well as protects against environmental degradation) globally so that the globalization of capital does not undermine domestic strategies to protect workers.
It is possible to alter the future of work towards equity, dignity and rights. Today we are fighting on many fronts against injustice, white supremacy, abusive corporate power, and deepening wealth inequality. A powerful vision for the future of work is an essential part of that fight.