Labor in the 21st Century Challenges and Opportunities:

A Worker-Centered Economic Recovery 

A Changing Legal and Regulatory Environment 

A Contested Political Terrain

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Date:  Friday, March 26, 2021 

Time: 9 am – 12 pm

On March 26, 2021, the Lois Gray Labor Innovation Initiative is sponsoring a national conference to explore the challenges and opportunities labor faces in the coming year. This convening will celebrate Cornell ILR’s 75th Anniversary and honor the legacy of Lois Gray, a towering figure in the field of labor relations and labor education.   

The conference will focus on labor’s vision for a worker-centered economic recovery, labor’s agenda in a changing legal and regulatory environment, and labor’s strategy on a contested political terrain.



Labor in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities is a conference that is hosted by ILR and the Lois Gray Innovation Initiative

This virtual conference considers the role of labor in the 21st century and celebrates ILR’s 75th Anniversary and honors Lois Gray. Lois Gray was a pioneer in the field of labor education and helped establish The Worker Institute at Cornell ILR.

The Worker Institute is a convening space for labor scholars, activists and leaders to engage in innovative thinking. Lois Gray recognized the vital role The Worker Institute plays in creating a unique space for labor leaders to learn, explore, examine and experiment.

Lois Gray Innovation Initiative

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ALEXANDER COLVIN
Dean, Cornell ILR School

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ESTA BIGLER
Director of NYC Government Relations, Director of Cornell University ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program, Cornell ILR School

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PATRICIA CAMPOS-MEDINA
Executive Director, The Worker Institute

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E TAMMY KIM
Freelance Journalist

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AGENDA:

Cornell ILR School

The Worker Institute

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9:00       Welcome and Introduction

 Featuring:

ALEXANDER COLVIN, Dean, Cornell ILR School
ESTA BIGLER, Director of NYC Government Relations, Director of Cornell University ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program, Cornell ILR School
PATRICIA CAMPOS-MEDINA, 
Executive Director, The Worker Institute


9:10       Opening Plenary

 Featuring:

E TAMMY KIM, Freelance Journalist (Moderator)
MARY KAY HENRY, International President (SEIU)
REBECCA DIXON, Executive Director, The National Employment Law Project (NELP)
ANALILIA MEJIA, Deputy Director, Women’s Bureau, US Department of Labor

10:10     Break

10:20     Concurrent Sessions























Leaders, activists, academics and educators are invited to join a spirited and provocative conversation about how labor might relate to the Biden administration, employing both an inside strategy to advance a truly progressive platform and an outside strategy to build power and pressure to drive a pro-worker agenda.

How should labor respond in 2021 to the challenges and opportunities born of the multiple and intersecting crises of 2020, including a pandemic, economic collapse, mass uprisings against racist violence, climate catastrophes, growing inequality, and existential threats to democracy itself?  This question will animate and inform the discussions at the conference.

This virtual event will feature some of the most innovative thinkers in the labor movement and academia and will offer a space for an imaginative conversation about our collective future.

A National Virtual Conference

Sponsors:

ANALILIA MEJIA
Deputy Director, Women’s Bureau,
US Department of Labor

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Bio

BOB MASTER
Legislative and Political Director, 

Communications Workers of America in the Northeast

MARY KAY HENRY
Labor Union Activist,
International President (SEIU)

Bio

REBECCA DIXON
Executive Director, The National Employment Law Project (NELP)

Bio

ELIZABETH
SHULER
Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO

Bio

ERICA SMILEY
Executive Director, Jobs With Justice

Bio

TAMARA L. LEE, ESQ
Assistant Professor, Rutgers University

Bio

ARIEL AVGAR
Associate Dean for Outreach and Associate Professor, Cornell ILR School

Bio

KATE GRIFFITH
Jean McKelvey-Alice Grant Professor at the ILR School

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WILMA LIEBMAN
Past Chairman, National Labor Relations Board

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ROSEMARY BATT
Alice Hanson Cook Professor of Women and Work at the ILR School

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MATT GINSBURG
Associate General Counsel, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

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NIA WINSTON
General Vice President, UNITE HERE

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DOUG MOORE
Executive Director of the United Domestic Workers of America

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RUBEN GARCIA
Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Workplace Law Program, University of Nevada

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CONCURRENT SESSION 1: A Worker-Centered Economic Recovery

We currently face the worst political, social, and economic inequality in a century.  This panel will focus on critical initiatives needed to launch a Worker Centered Economic Recovery. While a recovery will require work on many dimensions, in this workshop we focus on three: Strategies to reduce the power of financial and corporate elites, strategies to advance racial and gender justice, and strategies to attack climate change and create jobs and income security. 

Featuring:

ROSEMARY BATT, Alice Hanson Cook Professor of Women and Work at the ILR School (Moderator)
LISA DONNER, Executive Director, Americans for Financial Reform
DOUG MOORE, Executive Director of the United Domestic Workers of America( UDW/AFSCME 3930)
RICK LEVY, President, Texas AFL-CIO

CONCURRENT SESSION 2: A Changing Legal and Regulatory Environment

This panel will discuss some of the most pressing legislative and regulatory issues for workers and their organizations. It explores current challenges and opportunities for reform.

Featuring:

KATE GRIFFITH, Jean McKelvey-Alice Grant Professor at the ILR School (Moderator)
RUBEN GARCIA, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Workplace Law Program, University of Nevada
MATT GINSBURG, Associate General Counsel, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
WILMA LIEBMAN, Past Chairman, National Labor Relations Board

CONCURRENT SESSION 3: A Contested Political Terrain

We will discuss how labor might relate to the political moment, employing both an inside strategy to advance a progressive platform and an outside strategy to build power and pressure to drive a pro-worker agenda. 

Featuring:

CEDRIC DE LEON, Director of the Labor Center and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
TAMARA L. LEE, ESQ, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University (Moderator)
BOB MASTER, Legislative and Political Director, Communications Workers of America in the Northeast
NIA WINSTON, General Vice President, UNITE HERE


LISA DONNER
Executive Director
Americans for Financial Reform

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RICK LEVY
President, Texas AFL-CIO

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CEDRIC DE LEON
Director of the Labor Center and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Bio

New Survey Shows Overlapping Challenges of Racial, Gender, and Economic Injustice Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

This conference brings together leaders, activists, academics and educators to discuss how labor should respond to the challenges and opportunities born of the multiple and intersecting crises of 2020.

In February 20201, the Worker Institute at Cornell ILR, Color Of Change, National Employment Law Project, and the TIME’S UP Foundation released the results from a national survey conducted in late 2020 that showed deep racial, gender, and economic disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some key findings:

  • Workers across the board, but especially Black and Latinx workers, are experiencing devastating death tolls in their personal networks. Forty-two percent of Black workers and 40% of Latinx workers, compared to 23% of white workers, said they knew someone who died from COVID-19 at the time of the survey.
  • Black and Latinx workers are most concerned about employer retaliation for speaking up about unsafe workplace conditions. Thirty-four percent of Black workers and 25% of Latinx workers reported concerns about employer retaliation, compared to 19% of white workers.  
  • Workers of color—and Black women in particular—fear that if they become seriously ill, healthcare providers will subject them to substandard care due to their race. Almost half of Black workers (48%) and many Latinx (29%) and Asian (15%) workers expressed fear about receiving substandard healthcare due to their race if they become seriously ill, as opposed to 4% of white workers. Among Black workers, women (55%) were substantially more likely than men (38%) to report such concerns.   
  • Employers are committing wage theft during the pandemic and stealing wages from Black workers at higher rates than from white workers. Eight percent of all workers reported that their employers denied them wages they had earned. The share of Black workers who reported experiencing wage theft (14%) was more than twice that of white workers (6%).  
  • Almost two-thirds of non-union Black and Asian workers would vote for a union, but they are less likely than white workers to currently belong to a union. Sixty-two percent and 61% of nonunion Black and Asian workers, respectively, said that they would definitely or probably support a union at their job, compared to 42% of white workers and 44% of Latinx workers. However, union membership stands at 8% to 12% across these groups, woefully out of step with these levels of support.  
  • The vast majority of respondents support racial and gender justice social movements. A majority of all workers expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement (61%) and #MeToo (64%), as did majorities within each racial group.

“The survey results speak to the enormous challenges people have experienced in healthcare institutions, voting systems, and the world of work. They also point to a broad-based desire for voice at work and support for movements advancing racial and gender justice,” said report co-author Sanjay Pinto, Fellow at the Worker Institute at Cornell. “We need responses that confront racial, gender, and economic disparities across different systems, both through policy and the power of collective action.”

Join us on March 26th to hear what these type of responses could look like.

Read more findings and the full report here.

11:20     Break


11:30     Closing Plenary: Looking Ahead for Labor

 Featuring:

ARIEL AVGAR, Associate Dean for Outreach and Associate Professor, Cornell ILR School
ERICA SMILEY, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice

ELIZABETH SHULER, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO


12:05     End

SPEAKERS: