IRLE Researchers Featured at Berkeley Law Event
IRLE researchers Annette Bernhardt, Steven C. Pitts and Saru Jayaraman participated in "Working for Change: Low-Wage Earners at the Tipping Point," which was held at Berkeley Law in late October 2013. The event highlighted strategies for removing barriers to workplace equality that low-wage workers confront by harnessing the expertise of legal practitioners, policy makers, scholars in law and other disciplines, union organizers, non-profit organizations, funders and workers in dialogue with one another.
Low Wage Workers Face Uncertain Times
The two day conference placed the current challenges faced by low wage workers in a historical context. Much has changed since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but discrimination in the workplace continues to be a significant problem. Courts have constricted the capacity of the law to advance equality for workers with devastating impact on low-wage workers and their access to justice. Globalization, the decline of unions, the vulnerability of undocumented workers to discrimination and harassment, cuts in funding for civil rights enforcement, the increasing price of legal services, and limitations on class actions have only contributed to the hurdles that low wage workers face in asserting their rights to a workplace free of discrimination.
Although the current situation is disconcerting for many low wage workers, presenters also noted that organizing efforts to challenge the discrimination are gaining momentum. Across sectors, ranging from domestic workers to restaurant workers to retail, low-wage workers are gaining momentum in efforts to change policy, practice and culture.
Symposium participants focused on how the removal of structural and legal barriers to the enforcement of civil rights for low-wage workers can be bolstered by collaborative approaches such as practitioner, academic and organizing partnerships to develop new legal theories and strategies, multi-disciplinary working groups, and policy and law reform campaigns.
The event was highlighted by the Hon. Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Memorial Lecture, which featured David Lopez, General Counsel at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and ReNika Moore, Director of the Economic Justice Group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.