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Local Policies Fill the Gaps in Workplace Protections Where State, Fed Laws Fail

This summary about workplace protections was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

A joint project from the Economy Policy Institute, Local Progress, and Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program details notable ways localities have taken action to protect working people. The report says untapped potential remains for local officials and worker advocates to lift people’s working standards. 

Where federal and state workplace protections have been insufficient, local policies have stepped up: Many workers, particularly blue-collar workers like farm, domestic, and delivery workers, face two major problems, the report found. Those are wage theft — an area where most immigrants are most exploited — and employers’ misclassification of workers as ‘independent contractors’ to avoid paying them adequate compensation. 

Authors Terri Gerstein and LiJia Gong write that “federal and state leaders often face legislative challenges when they seek to pass laws in response to the workers’ needs.” However, “in the past decade, cities and localities have become increasingly important actors in expanding and enforcing workers’ rights.” 

For example, after 13 New Jersey cities passed local paid sick leave laws, the state government passed its own law. Most recently in New York, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which passed at the city level years ago, was passed as a statewide legislation covering much of the same ground. 

“There have been reports on cities passing paid sick leave laws or using living wage laws to lift standards for contractors,” said Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. “But we really wanted to give the complete roadmap or blueprint of the things that cities can do.”

Gong, the policy and legal director of Local Progress, said they hope the report will generate workplace protections ideas for legislation for progressive and pro-immigrant elected officials. 

More findings from the report: Noteworthy ways in which localities have taken action on behalf of working people in recent years include establishing dedicated local labor standards offices that enforce workers’ rights laws, passing local worker protection laws, and actively enforcing local worker protection laws. 

“Laws are passed mostly to protect the most vulnerable workers. And they’re the ones who need the enforcement the most,” said Gerstein, adding “it is also really important to adequately fund enforcement when passing new laws, especially when they’re laws that protect the most vulnerable workers.”

The report also details solutions for localities in which their state has passed laws preventing them from legislating on issues including raising the minimum wage or passing paid sick leave. 

Read the full report about workplace protections published here.


New York

New York’s dire need for Indigenous interpreters: The need for Indigenous language-speaking interpreters is palpable in immigration cases, which often involve building asylum claims that require a high standard of proof. — Read exclusively on Documented

New report on the social determinants of immigrants’ health in New York City: 37% of immigrant respondents said they needed to access health care in the last 12 months but did not receive it, for various reasons. — CMSNY

Around the U.S. 

Border authorities resist improving conditions for minors in crowded, freezing facilities: Children and teenagers make up a third of all immigrant detainees, and face dire conditions that border authorities haven’t improved. — The Marshall Project

Vincent Chin, a Chinese immigrant, was beaten to death in 1982. Forty years later, many hear frightening echoes: The anniversary of the killing approaches at a time of increased anti-Asian violence, leading younger Asian Americans to bring attention to the case. — New York Times

Supreme Court rules immigrants awaiting deportation case update have no right to bond hearing: The court did not rule on a larger question about whether it’s constitutional to deny immigrants bond hearings and detain them indefinitely. — Latino Rebels

Customs and Border Protection encountered nearly 240,000 migrants along the US-Mexico border in May: The figure represents about a 2% increase compared to April, and includes repeat crossers. — Read more

Migrant boats head for the U.S. through a historic route with a deadly reputation: U.S. air patrols are searching for the boats of largely Dominican and Haitian migrants, with officials saying they’re having frequent encounters. — Miami Herald (Paywall)

Washington D.C.

Supreme Court dismisses Republican-led lawsuit attempting to revive Trump-era “public charge” policy: The “public charge” policy denied green cards to immigrants if officials determined they might benefit from safety net programs; President Biden ended the policy. — New York Times

Biden admin. commits another $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine: Overall, the U.S. has now committed about $5.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in February. — New York Times

14 “life-long Republican” donors tell McConnell that DACA deal is key: In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the donors said ending DACA would cause “untold devastation” for industries that have relied on their work. — Politico

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