About Clean Slate for Worker Power

Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. It is led by Professor Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry, Harvard Law School and Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program.
The Clean Slate for Worker Power participants sought innovation, boldness and comity to answer to the project’s animating question: what would labor law look like if, starting from a clean slate, it was designed to empower working people to build a truly equitable American democracy and a genuinely equitable American economy.  

The project started from the premise that we face dual crises of inequality – economic and political – that spring from a single cause: the concentration of power in the hands of a small minority. In addition, we grounded the project in two related beliefs:

  1. that we cannot fix our crises of inequality, either economic or political, without a strong labor movement and
  2. that we cannot have a strong labor movement without reforming labor law.

Our final foundational belief was that our national labor laws were profoundly broken such that the time for tinkering with the law had long passed and that only by writing on a statutory clean slate could meet these challenges.

The Clean Slate for Worker Power recommendations rest on these core principles. We did not aim, however, to return to the labor movement of yesterday. This could not be our objective because even when the labor movement was at its historic peak, our society was profoundly exclusionary. Therefore, the first task in our project was to broaden the legal protections for workers’ collective power to counter systemic racial and gender oppression.

Even when the labor movement was at its historic peak, our society was profoundly exclusionary. Therefore, the first task in our project was to broaden the legal protections for workers’ collective power to counter systemic racial and gender oppression.

Upon that broader base, we have crafted recommendations that would bring a voice to all American workers. That voice would operate on every level at which corporations impact workers’ lives – in the workplace, across enterprises, across industries, in the boardroom, and in the political system. For the first time in our history, workers would have a right to exercise that voice at the sectoral level. Workers would be empowered to exercise their voice on the issues that are important to them, their families and communities without interference from employers. Finally, we empower state and local governments to find innovative ways of better protecting workers’ voice and power.

Source: Arizona Education Association.

We engaged in this work at an auspicious time. When we started, the dominant public narrative was one of unmitigated bad news for the labor movement. But then something happened – during the course of the Clean Slate project, this narrative shifted. While the labor movement remains in deep crisis, workers grabbed the national headlines in a way we have not seen in decades – teachers took to the streets in the RedforEd movement; Google workers walked out by the tens of thousands around the world; Marriott workers engaged in a strike that crossed the nation and yielded innovative collective bargaining provisions; and the public told Gallup pollsters that they support unions at levels not recorded in decades. Everyone involved in Clean Slate has been moved, motivated and humbled by these acts of collective courage. It is our hope that one day, in the not too distant future, these workers will have the labor law they deserve.

Our Partners

Clean Slate for Worker Power and its recommendations are the product of a nearly two-year effort to elicit the best ideas from a broad array of participants including advocates, activists, union leaders, labor law professors, economists, sociologists, technologists, futurists, practitioners, workers, and students from around the world.

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