Milking Outdated Laws: Alt-Labor as a Litigation Catalyst
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Griffith, Kati L.; Gates, Leslie C.
Even though alt-labor does not have significant labor market power when compared to labor unions, its impacts are manifold. Alt-labor has given rise to novel state and local legislation improving wages and working conditions for low-wage workers across the country. It has fostered new collaborations with government enforcement agencies to improve the implementation of rights on the books—to “make rights real.” It has promoted new bargaining and worker organizing strategies, outside of traditional models. This article highlights another achievement of alt-labor. Alt-labor has served as a catalyst for creative litigation efforts that argue for application of existing workplace protections to non-traditional populations of workers and their organizing efforts. In this way, it has pushed to reinterpret, and thus to revitalize, what many perceive to be outdated labor and employment laws. We focus on initiatives that reimagine the interpretation of these laws in light of new organizing strategies and new global economic realities, all the while staying true to the existing laws on the books. Along with raising questions, and proposing new interpretations of New Deal and civil rights era gains, sometimes alt-labor’s litigation efforts are successful and lead to case law “wins.” To build its approach, the article draws from literature on litigation as a social movement strategy and provides an in-depth analysis of the ways courageous dairy workers in upstate New York have inspired innovative litigation theories and successes. Alt-labor’s achievements as a litigation catalyst are laudable—given the challenge of enacting federal legislation to address income inequality and the decline of labor union power—in the current era.
alt-labor; litigation; working conditions; labor rights; labor law
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