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Harvard Law School Launches Center for Labor and Just Economy

The Center for Labor and a Just Economy is a research and policy initiative housed in Harvard Law School.
The Center for Labor and a Just Economy is a research and policy initiative housed in Harvard Law School. By Julian J. Giordano
By Cam E. Kettles and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

The Center for Labor and a Just Economy, a Harvard Law School research and policy initiative focusing on worker advocacy and labor law, launched Tuesday morning in a webinar featuring panelists from the Department of Labor and National Education Association.

The center revamps and expands the former Labor and Worklife Program, established by the Law School in 2002 to “examine critical changes in labor markets, labor law, and the experiences of working people” and “analyze the role of advocates, unions, worker organizations, business, and government in improving the quality of life for working families in the U.S. and around the world.”

The program was relaunched in hopes of focusing work at the center on developing new strategies to bolster worker advocacy and reimagining American labor laws.

“We are looking to develop — in collaboration with folks from across the labor movement, academia, worker advocacy — new strategies for empowering workers so that the economy and our democracy will be more fair,” the center’s executive director Sharon Block said.

The center will now include the Workers’ Capital Project, while continuing to host the Harvard Trade Union Program, which existed under the Labor and Worklife Program.

The virtual launch event was hosted by Block and moderated by Eleanor Mueller, a Labor reporter at Politico. The panel featured HLS professor Benjamin I. Sachs, who serves as a faculty co-director at the center; Joelle Gamble, Chief Economist at the Department of Labor; Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association; and Jose Garcia, Director of the Future of Work(ers) team at the Ford Foundation. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also offered pre-recorded remarks.

During the webinar, panelists stressed the importance of unions and organizing.

“This country needs unions,” Pringle said. “Our workers need that collective voice and advocacy, so that they not only can participate in a just economy, but they have just working conditions and education.”

Sachs said the center will study and strategize on labor policy, with an early focus on how federal preemption rules can be relaxed on labor law to give states and cities “more breathing room” to craft labor laws around unionization.

“The mission of the center is to reimagine American labor laws to enable working people to rebuild the economy and politics in a more equitable fashion,” Sachs added.

Block said a key feature of previous HLS labor law projects was “bringing together lots of different kinds of expertise” — including perspectives from policymakers and union organizers — to come up with “the best answer.”

In a set of recorded remarks, Warren thanked members of the center for their “tireless efforts” in past years to “empower working people.”

“Over the past two years, we've made a lot of progress to support workers and hold corporations accountable for abuses,” Warren said. “The work you do here at the center is a key piece of the puzzle.”

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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