past event
Employment and Jobs

The Future of Worker Voice

Audio (MP3)

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See key moments from the discussion below. To view a video in full screen, play the video and click on the full-screen option at the bottom right.

Challenges to Labor Model
Rethink Collective Bargaining
Future of Labor Movement

See more video highlights from the discussion.


About the Event

Labor unions traditionally have been the voice of workers seeking better pay, benefits, and jobs and have been a critical means for working people to improve their working conditions, incomes, and social standing. The right to form and join a labor union is enshrined in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in the United States, union membership and the commitment to unions is not as strong. Union membership has fallen from a high of 34.8 percent of wage and salary workers in 1954 to 11.1 percent in 2014. Recently, a number of states and the courts have taken actions that weaken labor unions. Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have joined 22 other mostly southern and western states and adopted “right to work” laws that undermine labor union membership. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled against the home care worker union in the Harris v. Quinn case.

The future of workers’ voice in shaping their jobs today and tomorrow is at a crossroads. Are traditional labor unions able to successfully represent workers today — especially those in fast-growing, low-wage service sector jobs — or have they been too weakened? What are the new models and organizations that have started to emerge over the last two decades? And fundamentally, how can the nation hear from workers themselves and understand their experience of work today if there is no organized voice that brings their perspective to public and private discussions about jobs and work?

A number of both traditional unions and new types of organizations are taking on this challenge of finding new ways to represent the experience of working people in today’s economy. This panel discussion will explore issues affecting the future of worker voice and new ways of organizing workers to collectively shape and improve their jobs and careers.


Featured speakers

Sarita Gupta @SaritaSGupta
Executive Director, Jobs With Justice @JWJNational

Ruth Milkman
Professor of Sociology and Research Director, CUNY’s Murphy Labor Institute @MurphyInstitute

David Rolf
President, SEIU 775 @SEIU775
Founder and Co-Chair, The Workers Lab @TheWorkersLab

Judge Laura Safer Espinoza

Executive Director, Fair Food Standards Council @FairFoodSC

Cruz Salucio

Watermelon harvester and Spokesperson, Coalition of Immokalee Workers @CIW



Harold Meyerson @HaroldMeyerson
Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect @TheProspect
Columnist, The Washington Post @WashingtonPost


Related resources

Fact Sheet on The Future of Worker Voice

With Unions Disappearing, What’s the Future of the Worker Voice?
By Eric Christensen in The Aspen Idea Blog


This event is part of the Working in America series, an ongoing discussion series hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program that highlights an array of critical issues affecting low- and moderate-income workers in the United States and ideas for improving and expanding economic opportunities for working people. For more information, visit




Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #talkgoodjobs.

Event information
Thu Apr 23, 2015
12:00pm - 1:30pm GMT+0000
Aspen Institute
One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC, United States