Declining Worker Power is a National Crisis

New Roosevelt Institute brief argues we need a whole-of-government approach to address labor policy failures and strengthen labor market institutions

December 15, 2022
Ariela Weinberger
(212) 444-9130

This past Friday’s jobs report revealed a near record-low unemployment rate. But after decades of anti-labor policies, the hot labor market alone is only a first step in strengthening American workers’ power. Reversing the effects of those policies will require a government-wide effort to increase workers’ declining power relative to employers, leveling the playing field and enforcing rules around employment that protect workers. As evidenced by last month’s Department of Justice victory in blocking the Penguin Random House-Simon and Schuster merger (the first successfully blocked merger in nearly five years), government can rein in the corporate consolidation that drives up prices and lowers wages.

A new Roosevelt Institute issue brief, “A Whole-of-Government Approach to Increasing Worker Power,” calls for agencies across the federal government to prioritize building workers’ power in the labor market and offers a framework to help achieve this goal. Authored by Roosevelt fellow Hiba Hafiz, the brief describes how a “whole-of-government” approach could better integrate the enforcement and impact of labor, antitrust, and other agencies (including at the state and local levels) to challenge unbalanced employer power and strengthen worker power.

“Similar to the failures of the financial crisis, the failures in American labor markets are the product of weakened and absent market institutions. These institutions no longer facilitate fair exchange in accordance with broader economic governance goals that include combatting unequal bargaining power between employers and workers. Now more than ever, we require an all-hands-on-deck government approach to building and strengthening labor market institutions and actively policing the rules that govern the employment bargain,” said Hafiz.

Hafiz’s proposed framework includes:

  • Federal agencies using their existing resources and enforcement powers while also building greater interagency coordination to tackle declining worker power as a national crisis in our labor markets;
  • Establishing unified guidelines and government-wide metrics for prioritizing enforcement and triggering legal duties, presumptions, and liabilities when indicators of unequal bargaining leverage are present;
  • Improving interagency coordination; and
  • Integration of macroeconomic policy considerations to avoid further decimation of worker power.

“The declining power of workers is a national crisis with both economic and socio-political consequences. This couldn’t have been more true with the recent railroad strikes. Ensuring that government works for workers is our only hope for overcoming unprecedented inequality, achieving economic liberty and self-determination, and healing our fractured democracy,” said Hafiz.