Clean Slate Update

Sharon Block

Sharon Block is a Professor of Practice and the Executive Director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law School.

Benjamin Sachs

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. He is also faculty director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy. Professor Sachs teaches courses in labor law, employment law, and law and social change, and his writing focuses on union organizing and unions in American politics. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in 2008, Professor Sachs was the Joseph Goldstein Fellow at Yale Law School.  From 2002-2006, he served as Assistant General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, D.C.  Professor Sachs graduated from Yale Law School in 1998, and served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His writing has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the New York Times and elsewhere.  Professor Sachs received the Yale Law School teaching award in 2007 and in 2013 received the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence at Harvard Law School.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Last spring, we promised to share information about the project we’ve launched at Harvard Law School, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law Reform.”

On Labor Day,  we laid out our vision for this ambitious project:  (1) reimagining collective bargaining; (2) expanding the range of available worker organizations; (3) ensuring that collective action leverages power; (4) using benefits and enforcement to strengthen worker organizations; (5) updating other legal regimes to empower workers; and (6) addressing persistent, historical inequities that have plagued the labor movement.

A lot has happened since Labor Day, and we wanted to share the highlights.

Working Groups

We have built an incredible network of more than eighty people who are hard at work on the project.  We have organized eight working groups, each with a focused mission of learning about and making recommendations about the issue areas identified above. The working group members represent a broad cross section of academics, advocates, activists, union members and leaders, and students from around the world. We are also honored to have an international advisory group helping us understand and learn from other models of labor law and labor relations. A full list of the project team is available here.


In October, we gathered at Harvard for a day-long conference on “Facilitating the Formation and Sustainability of Powerful Worker Organizations.” Our focus was on two critical questions: how should workers decide whether to be represented and how can workers most effectively support the organizations that represent them. Some of the proposals we debated were whether workplaces should be unionized by default, and whether elections should be required in all workplaces – perhaps through a regular union election day that would take place every couple of years. We also began to develop new ideas for financing the long-term flourishing of dynamic worker organizations.

In early December, we came together again to discuss “How to Establish the Scope and Power of Collective Action.”At this event, our focus was how law can ensure that workers have the genuine ability to engage in collective action that leverages power. Contributing to this dynamic discussion were representatives from the Google walkout, Fight for $15, RedforEd teacher actions, Teamsters port trucker strikes and the Toys ‘R Us severance pay fight. We also learned about technology as a tool to build worker power, strategies to use economic power analysis to inform collective action, and ways to expand the range of people who can engage in collective action.

In January, we will convene again and explore how to adapt the scope of collective bargaining to meet the challenges of a changing economy. We will do a deep dive into sectoral bargaining, drawing on a range of international experts as well as historians and labor leaders who will speak to the U.S. experience with multi-employer bargaining. Also on the agenda for January is the question of how to expand the range of workers with access to collective bargaining rights and the scope of subjects that are part of the collective bargaining obligation.

Future of Labor Law Research Fellowships

In partnership with Jobs With Justice, we are launching an new fellowship program: the Future of Labor Law Research Fellow. Future of Labor Law Research Fellows are law students or recent law graduates with a commitment to expanding access to collective bargaining for working people and to reforming labor law. The Fellows will be placed with an ongoing organizing effort selected for its innovative potential, and also will have an integral role in shaping the Clean Slate Project.  We will fund two full-time and one part-time fellows beginning in the winter of 2019.  More information is available here.


We’ve also updated the Clean Slate website so you can find more information about the Project.  Visit us here.

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