The new research hub will facilitate deeper understanding of the way worker issues intersect with policy matters, from income inequality to procurement standards.

NYC Municipal Building
(Photo by Mike / Getty Images)

Amid increased interest in workers’ rights, New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate  School of Public Service today (Jan. 11) announced the launch of the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative, a new hub of research and practice that will focus on the role and powers of governments to protect and advance workers’ rights, particularly at the state and local levels.

The NYU Wagner Labor Initiative innovatively embeds a labor program within a graduate school of public service. In doing so, it facilitates a deeper understanding of the way that worker issues intersect with a range of policy matters, from income inequality to procurement standards. It will also explore the varied ways that government agencies of all kinds can incorporate labor and worker needs into their policymaking and operations.

“Under the direction of Terri Gerstein, a nationally recognized attorney and policy advocate, NYU Wagner’s new Labor Initiative will turn an evidence-based lens on important issues and policies affecting workers through research, public forums, and training activities,” said NYU Wagner Dean Sherry Glied. “We are glad to lead the way in incorporating labor issues within the content of a public service graduate school, and examining the role of government in relation to workplace rights. We are very pleased to launch The NYU Wagner Labor Initiative.”

Gerstein brings more than 25 years of experience working on labor and workers’ rights issues. Most recently, she was a Senior Fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, and the Director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy; that project will now be absorbed into the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative.

Through her work, Gerstein has been instrumental in expanding the involvement of state attorney general offices, prosecutors, and cities and counties in workers’ rights enforcement. She has supported offices as they established dedicated worker protection units, and she created an active and dynamic network – now to be housed at Wagner – of state and local government agencies focused on workers’ rights. Previously, Gerstein was the labor bureau chief in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and a deputy commissioner in the New York State Department of Labor.

“As a growing number of workers take action to improve their conditions on the job, it’s essential to understand the unique, critical role that government can play in advancing and protecting workers’ rights,” Gerstein said. “I am thrilled to be joining Wagner, which is the perfect home for this new initiative.”

The new NYU Wagner Labor Initiative will support government and civil society through:

●       Convening regularly with government officials, including monthly meetings of state attorney general, district attorney, and local government labor standards agencies to improve practices and build capacity in the labor enforcement field.

●       Providing government officials and worker advocates with expertise regarding enforcement strategies, best practices, focus areas, and newly emerging developments, using research and articles, reports, toolkits, briefings, trainings, webinars, and technical assistance, alongside connecting government agencies with each other and with worker organizations in their jurisdictions.

●       Sharing expert knowledge with policymakers, advocates, and the public on labor standards and enforcement-related policy issues, such as child labor, wage theft, misclassification of workers, and employment contract terms (i.e., non-compete or forced arbitration provisions) that hinder workers from exercising their rights.

●       Increasing public knowledge about labor issues and the need for government action by translating worker issues for a popular audience by authoring op-eds and commentary, and by hosting events (such as forums and speaker series) and providing data-informed insights to reporters and media covering labor issues.

●       Help bring workers’ rights issues more extensively into the life of Wagner through public events and collaboration with faculty and students.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said: “Terri is a visionary leader who has been at the forefront in the fight for workers’ rights. She has pioneered new ways for law enforcement to address wage theft and worker safety issues, impacting prosecutors’ offices across the country.  Terri was instrumental in getting my Office’s Worker Protection Unit off the ground.  Under Terri’s leadership, the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative will be an important resource for my office’s efforts to combat worker exploitation. I can think of no better person for this role and no stronger advocate for workers than Terri. I look forward to our continued partnership in her new position.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison commented: “When I first became attorney general, one of my top priorities was fighting wage theft. Terri was instrumental in helping us get our wage theft unit off the ground, analyzing the potential role we could play and advising about how the unit could be structured. I know she has also played this role for other attorney general offices, and her contribution has been transformative.”

 Nancy A. Walker, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, said: “States play a critical role in protecting workers’ rights, and collaboration among enforcers makes us all more effective. This new initiative will help government leaders collaborate across state lines and learn from each other, and will help connect government offices with relevant stakeholders. With her expertise and passion for workplace issues, Terri will be an effective leader in the continued work of helping labor leaders to enforce our laws and deter unlawful conduct.

Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, said, "Terri has a strong track record of helping build the capacity of state and local governments to enforce, protect, and advance workers' rights. Workers across the country have benefited from her work to help the government deliver economic justice to working people. We at SEIU are excited to see her in a new role leading the work of NYU Wagner Labor Initiative and look forward to working with the Initiative."

Ivan Luevanos-Elms, Executive Director of Local Progress and the Local Progress Impact Lab, said, “Terri has been an invaluable partner to Local Progress as we have worked across our network of more than 1400 local elected officials to advance worker protections and worker power. Together, we have developed new strategies for local action and disseminated innovations across the country. In recent years, local governments, in collaborative governance with community and labor, have grown their role in relating to workers' rights, and Terri has played a key role in supercharging this movement. With Terri at the helm, the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative will be a critical hub of knowledge and practice about all of the ways governments can center workers' rights and improve working conditions. We look forward to continuing our partnership.”

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Robert Polner
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