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These 5 innovative projects are building worker power

From raising gig worker salaries to improving conditions for construction workers, these are the five projects funded by the Workers Lab 2019 Innovation Fund.

These 5 innovative projects are building worker power
[Source Image: Jolygon/iStock]

What do dairy workers, construction laborers and those in the gig economy have in common? They’re all facing a tumultuous work landscape, filled with wage, safety, and community concerns—and they’re all set to get some help.

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The Workers Lab 2019 Innovation Fund launched its 2019 class today, awarding $750,000 to a group of organizations working on helping workers receive higher wages and better protections at work.

Since it was founded in 2014, the Workers Lab has sought to empower workers in the 21st century economy as they fight for protections, wages, benefits and a voice that can be heard above the din of our democracy. The economy is changing, what work looks like is changing, and the relationship between workers and their companies is changing, says Workers Lab founder Carmen Rojas, and she wants to see leaders across labor industries experiment and innovate ways to make work better.

This year’s Innovation Fund received ideas from 268 applicants across 14 countries and 28 states within the U.S., from all different industries. “Across the economy, what we’ve seen in the last 30 years is a hollowing out of benefits, protections, and wages that working people need to live lives of opportunity in the United States,” says Rojas. “I’m never surprised that [entries] run the gamut. …There are very few places where we’re seeing real gains for working people in our economy.”

“[With] all of these experiments, for us it’s about creating room for these innovators, but it’s also ultimately about informing some of these larger conversations that are happening around the economy and what workers need,” says Betsy Edasery, Workers Lab managing director who oversees the Innovation Fund.

Even though these 2019 winners focus on a variety of issues, Edasery and Rojas see common themes in the issues they face and what they’re fighting for. “From dairy workers to gig workers, working people are experiencing a level of uncertainty and precarity that we haven’t seen in the last two generations,” says Rojas. And the way toward righting those wrongs? It all comes down to building worker power.

The Workers Lab provides $150,000 each to the five Innovation Fund winners so that they can devote 12 months working on their ideas and learning more about what it takes to build greater worker power. This year’s winners are:

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  • Migrant Justice, which enlists dairy companies enroll on their Milk with Dignity program, defining a code of conduct for farms that ensures workers receive dignified wages, schedules, housing, health and safety regulations, and discrimination and harassment protections.
  • Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), which is working with nonunion construction workers to “raise the floor” of their industry with standards that eliminate labor trafficking, wage theft, payroll fraud, unsafe working conditions, identity-based harassment, and the other injustices.
  • Co-op Dayton, which is building a co-op model for small, working class cities to create new businesses that address gaps in neighborhood goods and services.
  • Working Washington, which is leading a national #PayUp campaign calling for digital gig workers (primary from delivery platforms like like Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates) to have pay standards including $15 an hour after expenses, tips on top of base pay, and transparency in the breakdown of their pay.
  • New Deal Home Improvement Company, which will create a center for shared support in the sustainable construction and renovation market, providing skills training, work referrals, and a community-based tool lending library to allow small and new businesses to compete in the green building space.

Over the next year, those five winners will hone their ideas, get networking support, and convene together to draw insights on the successes and challenges within testing new ideas for how our 21st century workforce should, and could, meet its workers’ needs.

Since its inception, the Innovation Fund has invested more than $2,000,000 in 38-plus projects nationwide. Though it may be discouraging at first glance to see all the labor issues that need attention, Edaserey says it’s ultimately heartening to find these innovators, “who are just steadfastly committed to making things better for working people across industries, across geographies, and who are committed to trying things out until we get this right.”

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