Workplace Monitors: A Model for Worker Safety, Rights, and Representation

Dr. Lindsay Owens • May 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed numerous injustices within the workplace that leave workers in tenuous and often unsafe jobs. Workers’ lack of voice, power, or representation in the workplace make it difficult to speak out against these injustices, yet alone remedy them. But, declining unionization rates over recent decades have made this lack of representation a pervasive problem. 

In this report, Dr. Lindsay Owens expands upon a proposal from Harvard Law School’s Clean Slate for Worker Power project to include democratically elected workplace monitors in all places of work. The paper discusses existing workplace monitor models and builds out the policy design details for a universal monitor program. Workplace monitors can ensure that workplaces are in compliance with state and federal employment laws and educate workers about their rights on the job. While workplace monitors are no substitute for unions, they can improve job quality and working conditions for tens of millions of workers without any formal representation. 

This report is a project of the Great Democracy Initiative and Clean Slate for Worker Power. 

Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. It is led by Professor Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry, Harvard Law School. Clean Slate for Worker Power participants sought innovation, boldness and comity to answer the project’s animating question: what would labor law look like if, starting from a clean slate, it was designed to empower working people to build a truly equitable American democracy and a genuinely equitable American economy.