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Mobilizing Local Government Law for Low-Wage Workers


There is growing scholarly interest in how community and labor groups are fashioning new legal frameworks outside of traditional labor law to facilitate worker organizing and enhance workplace standards. This Article focuses on an important and under-studied dimension of this movement: the use of local government law as a tool to restructure low-wage markets and improve the economic status of the working poor. To better understand the role of local government law in contemporary labor activism, we look closely at nine low-wage worker initiatives launched in Los Angeles between 1997 and 2008. We describe the genesis and features of these initiatives and examine how they relate to—and extend—traditional local government contracting, land use, and regulatory powers. We then step back from the details of the policies to identify general patterns that may be helpful in guiding scholars and activists interested in the potential of local government law as a lever of low-wage market reform. Specifically, we examine the type of organizational alliances that have promoted the initiatives, map the industry sectors targeted for local regulation, define a range of policy objectives, articulate how the initiatives are framed to policy makers, suggest basic criteria to assess policy impact, and explore the central challenge of replication.

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