Workers’ Rights Local Government Round Up | April 2023

Welcome back to the fourth edition of the Workers’ Rights Round Up! This is a collaboration between Local Progress Impact Lab and the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Center for Labor and a Just Economy. Below, we’ve collected powerful workers’ rights policies that passed across the country over the last few months, as well as news of recent enforcement actions. If you have any policies or programs that you think should be uplifted in the next workers’ rights round up or if you want to be connected to the leaders of any of the policies mentioned here, reply to this email or email Vishal Reddy at

⚖ Laws and Policies Applicable to Private Employers/Employees

Denver, CO Begins Implementing New Wage Theft Ordinance: In January, Denver passed a wage theft ordinance. This month, the Denver Labor office adopted rules for how enforcing and implementing the ordinance. The new rules indicate an “up-the-chain accountability” approach, which will mean “any employer who ultimately benefits from a worker’s labor may be required to pay [the worker’s] wages, including collecting funds from an entity that hired a subcontractor.” Additionally, the office affirmed they will not inquire into an employee’s immigration status as a part of any investigation.

Seattle, WA Bans Caste Discrimination in Workplaces, Housing, and Public Services: In February, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban caste-based discrimination in workplaces, housing, and public services. While caste discrimination was outlawed in India in 2013, caste discrimination still occurs in India and in the U.S. Dalits are commonly considered the lowest caste and thus tend to experience the most caste discrimination: a 2016 survey of South Asian Americans conducted by civil rights organization Equality Labs found that 25 percent of Dalit respondents said they had faced verbal or physical assault based on their caste. Click here to view the ordinance.

San Diego, CA Passes the Contractor Transparency Amendment: San Diego City Council passed the Contractor Transparency Amendment, which will require companies like Verizon, who are construction and right-of-way permit holders, to disclose the subcontractors they are using to complete permitted work. Right-of-way permits generally allow utility construction work on public roads by licensed utility companies. This City ordinance follows on the heels of the passage of a subcontractor transparency ordinance by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in May 2022, an ordinance that the Communications Workers of America were critical in passing. Click here to view the ordinance (Section 129.0121).

Seattle, WA Makes Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) for App-Based Delivery Workers Permanent: Seattle became the first city in the nation to implement permanent paid sick and safe time benefits for app-based gig workers. Workers will accrue one day of PSST for every 30 days with at least one work-related stop in Seattle. Led by Local Progress member Teresa Mosqueda, the City Council and Mayor unanimously extended a Covid-era ordinance that was set to expire in April. The legislation will expand to cover all workers including all app-based delivery workers. The ordinance does not cover workers for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft because they are already covered under a similar Washington state law. Click here to view the ordinance.

Los Angeles, CA Protects Freelancers by Requiring Written Contracts: Los Angeles City Council adopted an ordinance last month that would “require that any contract of $600 or more between employers and freelance workers must be in writing, with a date by which the freelancer must be paid.” If the contract doesn’t include a date or if there is no written contract, “employers must pay freelancers within 30 days after the work is completed.” Critically, a hiring party may not force a freelancer to waive their rights under this law, nor may a freelancer voluntarily waive their rights. The requirement of a written contract will enable the Los Angeles Office of Wage Standards (within the Department of Public Works) to more easily enforce these freelancing agreements. Click here to view the ordinance.

📃 Improving Conditions For Employees of City Contractors

Phoenix, AZ Passes a Prevailing Wage Ordinance: Phoenix City Council passed a prevailing wage ordinance on a tight 5-4 vote. The ordinance requires construction companies hired by Phoenix (or on behalf of the city)  to pay wages comparable to those of skilled laborers in the area for projects over $250,000. Phoenix’s procurement division will determine the prevailing wages for specific industries. Covered employers must also post jobs publicly and maintain certified payroll records. Click here to view the ordinance.

Chicago, IL Mandates Contracting Nonprofits Put in Place Labor Peace Agreements: The Chicago City Council voted 41-2 to require human service organizations that contract with the city and have more than 20 employees to put in place labor peace agreements. While media reports frame the provision as helping employees unionize, which may occur, the stated goal of the mandate is to ensure uninterrupted provision of services. The labor peace agreement must include a provision prohibiting work stoppages, as well as “commensurate provisions on the part of the Contractor to ensure labor peace as may be agreed upon by the parties” and “means of amicably and finally resolving disputes with any such Labor Organization.” The ordinance includes an exemption for hospitals. Click here to view the ordinance.

💥 Advancing Rights Using Civil + Criminal Enforcement and Shareholder Pressure

New York City, NY Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Reaches Settlement with Starbucks to Reinstate Fired NYC Worker: Starbucks employee Austin Locke has been reinstated to his position at a Long Island City location after being fired in July 2022 following a vote to unionize. The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) sued Starbucks after Locke filed a Fair Workweek Law complaint, claiming retaliation and violations of the law’s “just cause” protections. In addition to reinstating Locke, the company will need to pay $21,000 in back pay and penalties for violating NYC’s Fair Workweek Law. Media reports note that Locke was an active supporter of the unionizing effort. Since Locke’s initial complaint, at least twenty-four other Starbucks workers have filed their own Fair Workweek Law complaints to DCWP against the company.

Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards (OLS) Secures Settlements with Companies: The Seattle OLS reached a $30K settlement with a company for alleged violations of Seattle’s Minimum Wage, Wage Theft, and Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinances; the allegations centered on the employer misclassification of employees as unpaid interns so that they would not need to be paid for their work or entitled to other benefits. Additionally, the OLS obtained close to $40K for workers via settlements with four different employers who faced allegations of workplace retaliation and violation of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) and Wage Theft Ordinances.

Starbucks Shareholders Vote Yes on Proposal to Conduct an Independent Assessment of Management’s Response to Worker Organizing: This shareholder vote arose directly due to pressure from Local Progress member Brad Lander’s Comptroller’s Office using its leverage as a stockholder. New York City’s Retirement Systems, managed by the Comptroller’s Office, holds $155 million worth of shares in Starbucks.

Brooklyn, NY District Attorney Convicts Construction Company Owner for Criminally Negligent Homicide: Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the conviction of a construction company owner for criminally negligent homicide in relation to a 2018 workplace fatality: a 47-year-old worker was crushed to death when an excavation wall collapsed. The employer refused to stop construction even after workers and adjacent property owners warned that the site was unsafe.

Manhattan, NY District Attorney’s Office Announces Creation of Their First-Ever Worker Protection Unit + Obtains Guilty Pleas by Exploitative Employers: The new unit will investigate and prosecute wage theft and other forms of worker exploitation across Manhattan’s many industries. Recently, the office obtained a guilty plea from an unlicensed labor broker who committed workers’ compensation insurance fraud that left more than 100 construction workers underinsured in order to help employers evade more than $1 million in premiums. Additionally, the office recently obtained a guilty plea from electrical contractors on a public project; they had committed wage theft upwards of $1 million.