Outreach and Education

Advancing equity

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Worker voice must be integrated into the design, planning, and implementation of all of DOL's policies, programs, and operations.

The DOL can more effectively fulfill its mission and advance worker equity by incorporating worker voice into the design, planning, and implementation of all of DOL's policies, programs, and operations. Workers who are most impacted by myriad labor and employment issues under DOL jurisdiction -- such as wage/hour, health and safety, unemployment, workforce development, federal contracting and procurement, and more -- can provide invaluable insights into what strategies work (and do not work) in fostering equitable employment and economic opportunities. Impacted workers, worker organizations, and mission-driven local and community based organizations that serve impacted workers should be treated as integral partners of the DOL.

Equity cannot exist unless there are high road practices and quality jobs for all workers, including the most marginalized and underserved.

Workers from historically underserved communities disproportionately labor in industries and sectors that are low paid and rife with violations of workers' rights. If worker equity is to be achieved, it is critical that the DOL premise equity on the recognition that (i) all jobs are not equal and (ii) all jobs should be good jobs. Every single worker deserves a quality job, and DOL should promote high road employment as requisite to advancing equity.

Metrics for tracking, monitoring, and measuring progress on equity are necessary to ensure genuine and meaningful progress.

In order to advance worker equity, it will be critical for the DOL to develop and utilize metrics for tracking, monitoring, and measuring progress on equity in all of its programs, services, and operations. Where appropriate, the development of such metrics should be developed in collaboration with community, local, and state partners with adequate guidance, technical assistance, and funding from DOL to support implementation. The metrics also should account for data disaggregation, for example, with Asian American and Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ communities, to accurately assess worker and community needs and DOL's effectiveness and impact.

These overarching principles are the equity framework for the recommendations that we set forth below.

(i) Outreach and Education & (ii) Enforcement

We believe that effective DOL enforcement and effective worker outreach and education are inextricably linked. Workers are the most important enforcement partners that DOL has; when workers know their rights and assert these rights, this results in enhanced and strengthened workplace enforcement. Thus, we suggest the following ideas for DOL both to conduct outreach and education with, and to protect and enforce the rights of, workers from historically underserved communities.

Create Worker Equity Advisory Committees Within DOL -- The DOL should create Worker Equity Advisory Committees in order to institutionalize a mechanism for DOL to lift up worker voice and to hear and learn from workers about how to strengthen the equity, effectiveness, and impact of DOL policies and programs. The Committees should be located in the DOL divisions with jurisdiction relating to workers' rights and workplace conditions and be composed of directly impacted workers and worker organization representatives, including: Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) workers, immigrant workers especially those who are undocumented including Indigenous migrants, women of color workers, LGBTQIA+ workers of color, workers of color who are differently abled, justice impacted workers, workers in low-paid industries especially those with a significant degree of worker exploitation, and workers who have direct experience with the challenges of workplace enforcement. There should be adequate DOL staffing and resources to ensure the effectiveness and impact of these Worker Equity Advisory Committees in amplifying worker voice and advancing worker equity.

DOL Should Establish a Strategic Enforcement Partnership with Nonprofit Worker Organizations to Collaborate on Worker Outreach/Education and Enforcement -- While we appreciate that DOL currently has grant programs where nonprofit organizations are awarded grants to conduct outreach and education to workers on topics such as safe workplaces and hazard recognition and prevention, we recommend that DOL establish a Strategic Enforcement Partnership with nonprofit worker organizations and community legal organizations to collaborate on targeted enforcement in low wage industries and sectors that have high rates of workplace violations.

A model is the California Strategic Enforcement Partnership (SEP) established by now-U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su when she was the California Labor Commissioner. The SEP is a partnership between the California Labor Commissioner, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), worker organizations, and nonprofit legal groups that was formed in 2016 to bolster anti-wage theft enforcement efforts in six low-wage, high violation industries and to create a culture of labor law compliance. Worker centers and nonprofit legal groups with language and cultural competency, as well as deep knowledge of industry practices and community context, intensively engaged and supported workers throughout every step of the Labor Commissioner investigation process and beyond. Since 2018, the SEP has resulted in $61.5 million assessed in unpaid wages, and more than $8 million collected for workers. Some of the undersigned organizations are members of the SEP; we can attest first hand to the effectiveness of this strategic enforcement partnership model in elevating working conditions and standards in low-paid sectors.

This public agency-community partnership model can be replicated by the DOL with its various divisions relating to wage/hour, health and safety, federal contracting, and workforce development and training. The priority should be to partner with worker organizations that have the trust, track record, and cultural and linguistic competency in engaging the specific underserved and marginalized worker populations discussed above (e.g., BIPOC, undocumented immigrant, justice impacted, LGBTQ+ workers of color, women of color, workers in low-paid industries, etc.), particularly in underresourced geographic areas that lack state and local labor enforcement resources where DOL's role is especially critical.

Incorporate a Worker "Know Your Rights" Component into Workforce Development Trainings -- The DOL should explore ways to integrate culturally and linguistically effective worker "know your rights" training into DOL-funded workforce -development training programs on topics such as: wage and hour rights; the right to healthy, safe, and discrimination/harassment-free workplaces; the right to employee benefits to which workers may be entitled; the right to organize and form and join unions and worker organizations; the right not to be retaliated against for engaging in protected activity; and what to do if these rights are violated, including information on referrals to trusted and credible nonprofit organizations that offer free services.

By integrating "know your rights" education as a routine part of DOL-funded and supported workforce development trainings, an increased number of workers would understand and exercise their workplace rights. This would significantly strengthen the DOL's outreach, education, and enforcement efforts and bolster the DOL's impact in advancing worker equity and economic opportunities.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit these ideas on how the DOL can advance worker equity in your policies, programs, and procurement.

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Idea No. 363

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