From Brand New Congress:
The founders of the United States of America and those that followed established a Bill of Rights to constitute the values reflected by this great nation and those who reside within.
Now more than 225 years into our nation’s founding, we recognize the current Bill of Rights falls short of securing the full scope of unalienable rights for all people.
Our Constitution is, by design, a living document. Throughout our history, in order to build a more perfect union, our representatives have progressively expanded that document to better define and uphold our rights.
However, there remain unaddressed infringements on the promise to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as laid out in the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence.
Within this Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, we set forth a proclamation to build upon the moral standard for the United States of America, to ensure our laws hold true to the basic tenets of the human rights of individuals and communities above the interests of corporations, governments and other organizations.
Right to Justice & Liberty for All
ALL INDIVIDUALS HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIBERTY, JUSTICE, AND EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW.
The state must treat these human rights as inviolable and unimpedible. Our judicial system must safeguard fair and equal treatment for all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status or ability to pay. Individuals and corporations with substantial wealth cannot be entitled to greater leniency under the law than those of lesser means. No person should be marginalized based upon identity, and no laws or procedures should adversely target people based on their identities. The government must take active measures to eliminate barriers to all forms of justice and equality.
Right to Quality of Life
EVERY AMERICAN HAS A RIGHT TO QUALITY OF LIFE.
The unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be safeguarded by a basic standard of living which includes adequate and safe housing, healthy food, clothing, access to means of transportation, modern tools of communication, and leisure time. Americans who are retired, who have disabilities, or who are providing full-time care for family members with disabilities are entitled to the same basic standard of living as those who work.
Right to Self-Determination in Governance
SELF-DETERMINATION IN GOVERNANCE IS A HUMAN RIGHT.
The right of all people to determine their own governmental system dedicated to human rights, justice for all, and equitable opportunity cannot be impeded by any government or private corporation. We stand in opposition to imperialism, colonialism, and all other violations of the right to self-determination in governance. The United States must not support any other governments that infringe upon the right to self-determination.
Right to Equal Participation in Governance
EVERY CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES HAS THE RIGHT TO EQUAL PARTICIPATION IN OUR GOVERNMENT.
This right shall not be impeded on the basis of wealth, race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnic origin, or any other identity.
To ensure that all people have access to participation in their own governance, the government must eliminate hegemony by corporate and moneyed interests on our political systems. The government must safeguard rights established by the 1st Amendment to ensure freedom of information, rights to organize, and equal participation in governance. Whistleblowers must be protected to ensure accountability and transparency.
ALL CITIZENS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEEK PUBLIC OFFICE REGARDLESS OF THEIR MEANS.
The government shall ensure all qualified candidates will be listed on the ballot and able to participate in debates regardless of the practices of private political parties. Qualifications for candidacy shall be determined by demonstrated community support and not by arbitrary fees or rules established by private political parties.
THE RIGHT TO VOTE IS UNIVERSAL TO ALL CITIZENS, UNIMPEDED BY RACE, INCARCERATION, GENDER, OR GEOGRAPHY.
All impediments to this right, including gerrymandering and the Electoral College, must be eliminated. Any form of identification required to vote must be provided at no cost to the voter. To ensure equal representation for all United States citizens, all federal territories and the District of Columbia are entitled to the same rights of full Congressional representation as any state in the union, as well as the right to self-determination in seeking statehood.
Right to Health Care and Bodily Autonomy
HEALTHCARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT, AND ALL PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES MUST BE GUARANTEED ALL FORMS OF HEALTHCARE THROUGHOUT AN INDIVIDUAL’S LIFETIME.
Healthcare includes preventive care, evaluations, long-term care for chronic conditions, and the treatment required to maintain all forms of physical and mental health. This right must not be restricted by race, documentation status, ability to pay, incarceration, or any other identifier. The goal of the nation’s healthcare system must be quality preventive care and patient wellness and therefore cannot be reliant on private companies’ profits. The government must pursue solutions to systemic problems affecting public health, including poverty, inadequate housing, environmental contributors to disease, and preventable disease. The government must invest in public infrastructures that employ modern advancements in healthcare technologies, research, and development.
ALL INDIVIDUALS HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES ABOUT THEIR BODIES AND TO BODILY AUTONOMY.
The right to self-determination concerning one’s body and health and to disclose or withhold personal health information must not be infringed upon by any law, with the exception of individuals under the legal guardianship of others due to age or disability.
Right to a Healthy Environment
ALL INDIVIDUALS HAVE THE RIGHT TO A CLEAN, SAFE, AND SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT.
The survival of humanity is dependent on clean water, clean air, arable land, biodiversity, and a sustainable environment. The United States of America is responsible for protecting our planet for current and future generations. Public officials must take immediate action to address the wide-sweeping impacts of climate change and pollution to safeguard our communities. The federal government must prevent corporations or other public or private interests from exploiting the land, air, and water necessary to safeguard public health.
Right to Housing
ALL INDIVIDUALS HAVE THE RIGHT TO CLEAN, SAFE, MODERNIZED HOUSING.
To meet the standards for quality of life, housing provisions shall meet international safe construction standards and include conditions necessary for modern living such as adequate shelter from the elements, cleanliness, sanitation, running water, electricity, modern communications, and adequate space for food preparation, sleeping and recreation. Homelessness is not a crime. The government must eliminate homelessness by providing safe housing to all people who lack the financial means to secure their own, and by cultivating practices to make housing affordable in all communities.
Right to Education
A HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION IS ESSENTIAL TO SECURE THE RIGHTS TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
Every individual has the right to a quality public education throughout their entire life. The government shall provide tuition-free education from early childhood, through primary school, public universities, public community colleges, and trade schools. The right to education should not be restricted by race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, financial abilities, or any other identity.
Right to Employment
EVERY AMERICAN WHO NEEDS A JOB HAS A RIGHT TO STABLE AND SUSTAINABLE EMPLOYMENT WITH A LIVING WAGE.
The federal minimum wage must be set at a rate that guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all individuals regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, or any other identifier. Wages must be sufficient to secure all basic rights, including adequate and safe housing, food, clothing, access to means of transportation, modern tools of communication, paid family leave, and leisure time. The federal government shall guarantee affordable childcare for all working parents and legal guardians by providing federally funded infant care, early childcare and before and after school programs.
The federal government must ensure and protect the rights of all workers to unionize and organize, regardless of the form of employment, incarcerated status, or immigration status. A Constitutional amendment is necessary to abolish legalized slavery under the 13th Amendment and guarantee incarcerated people fair wages for their work.
Right to Safe and Sustainable Public Infrastructure
ALL INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES HAVE THE RIGHT TO MODERN, CLEAN, SAFE AND SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE.
The government must make strides to modernize and maintain our roadways; bridges; telecommunications, agricultural, waste management and water systems; and public properties including but not limited to government facilities, libraries, state and local universities, public schools and public parks. Public infrastructure must be expanded and maintained for the safety and success of all communities.
THE RIGHT TO MODERN-DAY COMMUNICATIONS ACCESS.
Access to modern communications devices and infrastructure is essential for public safety, quality of life, and the rights to employment and education. All people deserve this access unrestricted by corporate influence. The government must guarantee net neutrality and develop broadband infrastructure and telecommunications facilities to guarantee affordable connectivity for all communities.
Right to Freedom of Movement
ALL PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO MOVE FREELY, LIVE, AND WORK THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY.
The United States of America must implement an immigration system built on the tenets of human rights which facilitates worker migration, citizenship and immigration documentation regardless of individual net worth, ability to pay, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identities.
Agencies and policies focused solely on deportation, detention and suppression of migration, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, border militarization, and the denial of the right to seek asylum must be eliminated.
Right to Privacy
THE PRIVACY OF INDIVIDUALS MUST NOT BE INFRINGED UPON BY THE GOVERNMENT.
The federal government must safeguard provisions set forth in the 4th Amendment. The government of the United States of America must end all forms of mass surveillance. All individuals must be free from invasive procedures and programs designed to infringe upon individual freedoms of privacy and bodily autonomy.
We the undersigned, in order to form a more perfect Union, put forth in proclamation our commitment and duty to preserve and expand the liberties laid out in our founding documents to guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
The rights contained herein are written to strengthen the moral foundation upon which our nation stands. This proclamation serves to expand the definition of basic human rights and freedoms afforded to all people. As citizens of this great nation, it is our sworn duty to strive for, defend, and abide by the rights contained herein.
A SURPRISING SOLUTION TO SAVE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY | OPINION
SHARON BLOCK AND BENJAMIN SACHS, in Newsweek, 1/23/20
Running throughout the Democratic presidential debates has been a consistent theme: We are living in an era of deep economic and political inequality, and these dual crises now threaten to undermine our democracy.
What does economic inequality look like today? Well, it would take an average Amazon worker 3.8 million years, working full time, to earn what CEO Jeff Bezos now possesses.
And the country’s wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than half of the nation combined—20 people with more wealth than 152 million others.
On the political front, the facts are just as stark. Political scientists increasingly believe that our government no longer responds to the views of anyone but the wealthy.
Of course, these forms of inequality are mutually reinforcing: As economic wealth gets more concentrated, the wealthy build greater and greater political power that they, in turn, translate into favorable policies that lead to even more profound concentrations of wealth. And on and on.
This campaign season, the focus has been on a set of competing policy responses to these crises—health care reform, tax reform and education reform. But we think that there’s a more important solution. A better way to break the cycle of economic and political inequality. That solution is labor law. That’s because labor law is what enables workers—also known as the vast majority of Americans—to build economic and political power that can countervail the power of the wealthy.
Indeed, we know from history that when workers come together and collectively build organizations that are capable of countervailing the power of the wealthy and the power of corporations, the outcomes are profound. A large part of the explanation for our current crisis of economic inequality is the decline of the labor movement. Unions redistribute wealth—from capital to labor, from rich to poor—and without unions, we have lacked for a check on economic concentration.
The decline of the labor movement also explains much of the current crisis of political inequality. When unions were strong, they helped ensure that the government was responsive to the needs and desires of the poor and middle class; without unions, these millions of lower-income Americans have lost their most effective voice in our democracy. As Dolores Huerta, leader of the farmworkers historic organizing effort, put it, “Organized labor is a necessary part of democracy, [because] organized labor is the only way to have fair distribution of wealth.”
The question, however, is not how to restore the economy and the politics of the past. Nor is it how to restore the labor movement of its heyday. These cannot be the questions because although American democracy and the American economy were more responsive and more inclusive in the 1950s and 1960s, they were still profoundly exclusionary. Across our entire history, access to economic and political power has been unforgivably shaped by racial and gender discrimination, by discrimination based on immigration status, by sexual orientation and identity discrimination and by ableism.
What we need, then, is a new labor law that is capable of empowering all workers to demand a truly equitable American democracy and economy. That’s why over the past 18 months academics, advocates, union leaders and activists have come together to produce recommendations for a comprehensive rewrite of American labor law. This effort, called “Clean Slate for Worker Power,” has sought to answer the question: What would labor law look like if, starting from a clean slate, it was designed to empower working people to build an equitable economy and politics?
Our answer to this question comes in the form of a detailed set of policy recommendations that would transform how workers organize and exercise power. But the key to all of our recommendations is that the law must enable workers to countervail corporate power wherever corporate power impacts workers’ lives.
This means a labor law that equips workers to build and exercise power not just at the level of the individual workplace, but also across enterprises and industries, in the corporate board room and in our political democracy. The pathways to building such power, moreover, must be universal so no workers are left behind, which means that labor law reform must start by reversing decades-old exclusions that have a disproportionate effect on women and workers of color.
The biggest change we propose would be for labor law to allow workers to build power and engage in collective bargaining across entire industries, not just with individual firms. This requires us to create a sectoral bargaining system where agreements cover all employers and all workers in a sector—for example, bargaining between unions and the fast-food industry rather than bargaining between a union and a single McDonald’s franchise.
Through sectoral bargaining, labor law can take wages out of competition, relieving the downward pressure on pay that has so greatly contributed to the increase in income inequality. It would also reduce the incentives that firms now feel to fight unionization, and it would solve the puzzle—which plagues multiple industries and the gig economy—of who qualifies as an “employee.” Since all workers would be covered by sectoral agreements, it would no longer matter very much who is an employee and who is not.
Beyond sectoral bargaining, we also recommend giving workers multiple forms of workplace representation, including members-only unions and works councils. These structures, common in other advanced capitalist economies, facilitate both information sharing between workers and managers and can be a first step toward building the kind of strong unions required by a functioning sectoral bargaining system.
To ensure that workers are secure enough to take advantage of these new opportunities, moreover, we recommend that all workers in the United States be entitled to just-cause protection from discharge. And we argue that labor law needs to give workers a voice in the issues beyond wages and working conditions that are important to them and their communities, including employers’ impact on the environment.
Fundamentally redesigning our labor laws, rather than pursuing incremental reforms to our current laws, would provide the foundation for building powerful organizations for working people. At a time when the foundations of our democracy are being questioned, the project of creating a widespread system of workplace democracy is urgent.
The Clean Slate Agenda
Since the founding of the country, concentration of power in the hands of a small minority has been recognized as a threat to the viability of American democracy. Today, the struggle to preserve democracy in the face of extreme wealth concentration is acute because we live in a historical moment when vast disparities of economic power have been translated into equally shocking disparities in political power.
With this report, we offer an intervention that promises to help stop the self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, our aspiration is to enable all working people – including those who have been excluded by systemic racism and sexism – to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.
Labor law reform should expand protections of the law to address systemic racial and gender oppression.
Pathways to worker power should track corporate power and be universal, providing multiple forms of voice for all workers without employer interference.
We recommend creating a system of sectoral bargaining in which agreements are binding on all firms in the sector.
Sharon Block is the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Clean Slate for Worker Power project. Prior to coming to Harvard in 2016, she was the head of the Policy Office at the U.S. Department of Labor and senior counselor to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.
Benjamin Sachs is the Kestnbaum professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School and a leading expert in the field of labor law and labor relations. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in 2008, he was the Joseph Goldstein fellow at Yale Law School.
The Clean Slate Agenda
We are facing dual crises of economic and political inequality.
Fixing our broken economy and democracy requires reorganizing power in this country. We need to rewrite American labor law to enable workers to build strong collective organizations that can match corporate power. But our laws to empower workers are outdated, failing to keep up with changes in the economy, technology and employers’ tactics to undermine them. We need bold, transformative change to give everyone a voice in building a society in which workers, their families and communities can prosper.DOWNLOAD THE SUMMARYDOWNLOAD THE REPORT
Since the founding of the country, concentration of power in the hands of a small minority has been recognized as a threat to the viability of American democracy.
Today, the struggle to preserve democracy in the face of extreme wealth concentration is acute because we live in a historical moment when vast disparities of economic power have been translated into equally shocking disparities in political power. With this report, we offer an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, our aspiration is to enable working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.
Our goal is not restoring the labor movement – nor the economy and the politics – of yesterday. This cannot be our objective because although American democracy and the American economy were more balanced when the labor movement was at its historic peak, our society has always been exclusionary. Across our history, access to economic and political power has been unforgivably shaped by racial and gender discrimination, as well as by discrimination based on immigration status, by sexual orientation and identity discrimination, and by ableism.
With this report, we offer an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality.
What we need, then, is a labor law capable of empowering all workers to demand a truly equitable American democracy and a genuinely equitable American economy. This report contains many recommendations for how to construct such a labor law, but all of the recommendations are geared to achieving this overarching goal. In fact, while the policy recommendations are detailed and at times complex, the theory of Clean Slate is simple: When labor law enables working people to build organizations of countervailing power, the people can demand for themselves a more equitable nation.
When labor law enables working people to build organizations of countervailing power, the people can demand for themselves a more equitable nation.
The recommendations in this report are the product of a nearly two-year effort to elicit the best ideas from a broad array of participants. The project engaged more than 70 advocates, activists, union leaders, labor law professors, economists, sociologists, technologists, futurists, practitioners, workers, and students from around the world. Our thinking was facilitated by the amazing effort of eight working groups that engaged in deep research and learning and that provided preliminary recommendations. These groups sought innovation, boldness and comity, but not consensus. Accordingly, they are due credit for the outcome of the project, but not responsibility for the particular recommendations included.
Labor law reform must start with inclusion to address systemic racial and gender oppression. We recommend extending the protection of labor law to domestic, agricultural, undocumented, disabled and incarcerated workers; adopting a more protective test for defining independent contractors and extending coverage to independent contractors.
We recommend that labor law provide all workers with multiple forms of representation free from employer interference. These will include workplace monitors, works councils, non-exclusive collective bargaining representation, and exclusive collective bargaining representation.
We recommend creating a system of sectoral bargaining. Collective bargaining agreements reached at the sectoral level should be binding on all firms in that sector.
Meaningful Collective Action
We recommend that workers be able to choose as the object of their strikes or collective action the parties exercising real power over their lives. When they strike, they shouldn’t face financial ruin. They should be protected when they speak out on issues that affect their lives, livelihoods and communities.
Meaningful Collective Bargaining
To ensure that all Clean Slate recommendations are meaningful, we recommend that labor law protect workers’ right to organize and empower them to bargain over a broader range of subjects, including those that most impact their lives and communities, like climate change.
Role in Corporate Decisionmaking
We recommend that workers choose representatives to serve on corporate boards and that corporations have a legal duty to consider how corporate decisions will affect workers, not just executives and shareholders.
We recommend that workers’ ability to participate in democracy be facilitated by mandating same-day registration, early voting and vote by mail, in addition to paid time off to vote and engage in civic activities. Employers should be prohibited from coercing workers’ political activities.
State and Local Innovation
Federal labor law should set a floor for workers’ rights. State and local governments should be allowed to adopt reforms that build up from it.