The pandemic has exposed just how much we rely on workers—and just how thin the safety net is protecting those workers, and their families, and how fragile the entire economic system is. At the same time that childcare providers face business closures, for example, parents are struggling to find, and afford, childcare while they continue to work themselves.
The Workers Lab, an organization that funds experiments to build power for low-wage working people, is putting money into offering some solutions, giving prizes to groups focused on supporting workers to come out of this pandemic stronger.
The Innovation Fund, a competition that gives cash prizes to test these new ideas for building worker power, announces new recipients up to three times a year. The Fall 2020 grant winners responded to a theme about “coming back” from the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that puts workers at the center. “We’re really excited to announce these winners, which span the industries of childcare, logistics, and big platform work—all industries which the pandemic has changed, and from which we hope to learn about where opportunity can be found in the crisis, and how those new ideas can help us recover,” says The Workers Lab CEO Adrian Haro.
The three winners will each receive $150,000 (The Workers Lab partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The New World Foundation Quality Jobs Innovation Fund, and Schmidt Futures) to expand on their efforts. They are:
- Carina, a nonprofit that connects qualified childcare workers with families that need care. By partnering with government agencies and labor unions, Carina connects families, in both English and Spanish, from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington with openings at unionized, licensed family childcare providers.
- Driver’s Seat Cooperative, a driver-owned collective working on democratizing the data from big platform companies. Drivers can use the app to track their personal driving data, which helps them understand their real hourly wages—information that could be useful when applying for benefits such as unemployment—and learn what locations, hours, and other factors may affect their income. They can then sell that data, through the cooperative, to city agencies—which gives drivers a profit and helps local governments with transportation planning.
- Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a nonprofit focused on improving the working conditions in Southern California warehouses. California’s climate goals have led to new zero-emissions logistics requirements, and the pandemic has meant huge growth in the logistics industry. The nonprofit wants to put warehouse workers in the middle of that future—and in the center of that growth—by training displaced workers to embark on new, “green logistics” careers.
This round of grants also puts job quality and shared prosperity at the center, which has helped The Workers Lab develop its own framework of worker power—one tied to its vision, Haro says, of “a society where workers are the primary drivers of economics, politics, and culture in this country.” In that vision, he adds, workers are safe, healthy, secure, and free—attributes all tied to job quality and shared prosperity.
The $150,000 these three winners will receive is just the beginning of this work. “The money is a first step,” Haro says. “This next year we will continue to partner with these folks to learn as much as we can about what they’re doing, but also what that means for our field, what that means for labor, and what that means for our economy.”