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The Future of Worker Voice

April 23, 2015  • Economic Opportunities Program

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.


Harold Meyerson, Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect, and Columnist, The Washington Post

Featured speakers:

Sarita Gupta, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice
Ruth Milkman, Research Director of CUNY’s Murphy Labor Institute and Professor of Sociology
David Rolf, President, SEIU 775, and founder and co-chair, The Workers Lab
Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, Executive Director, Fair Food Standards Council
Cruz Salucio, Spokesperson, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Watermelon Harvester