Dorian Warren

Roosevelt Institute Fellow

Recent Posts by Dorian Warren

  • The Missing Living Wage Agenda

    Nov 20, 2012Annette BernhardtDorian Warren

    As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a long-term plan to provide justice on the job for all workers.

    As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a long-term plan to provide justice on the job for all workers.

    Now that the election is over, our hope is that we can finally move beyond the vacuous invocations of an imaginary middle class where everyone is in the same boat. It’s time to get real about the concrete policies needed to take on the multiple inequalities that run deep through the U.S. labor market. And we’re not talking about the “skills mismatch,” another red herring routinely flung into this debate by both sides (including by President Obama as recently as the last week of the campaign).

    What we’re talking about is a broad, multi-year agenda to give America’s workers a living wage and voice on the job and to take on the continuing exclusion of workers of color, immigrants, and women from good jobs. The media may have discovered inequality last year with the surprise emergence of Occupy Wall Street, but in truth, there is a 30-year backlog of policies to fix the extreme maldistribution of wages and opportunity in the labor market.

    First, we have to make our core workplace standards much stronger – whether it’s in terms of wages, health and safety, or voice on the job. That means raising the minimum wage so that it’s a meaningful floor again (some good news: voters in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach raised theirs last week). It means updating health and safety regulations written in the 1970s. And it means restoring the right to organize, because at this point, virulent employer opposition and retaliation has rendered U.S. labor law obsolete. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. workers say they would like to be represented by a union, but only 11.8 percent actually are. This is what happens when one out of four workers is fired illegally for attempting to organize a union while employers face minimal penalties.

    Second, we have to take on the profound reorganization of the American workplace. The poster child for precarious work is temp jobs – but subcontracting has had a much broader impact, as janitors, laundry workers, warehouse workers, security guards, food service workers, and millions of others have been outsourced to low-wage firms. A good model for a solution is California’s recent law making companies liable for minimum wage and overtime violations by their subcontractors, recognizing that end-user firms such as Walmart exert considerable control over working conditions down their supply chains.   

    Third, we have to double down on enforcement. A 2008 study of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York found that 26 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage and 76 percent were underpaid or not paid at all for their overtime hours. Yet the number of federal wage and hour inspectors is still below 1980 levels, and it would take 131 years for OSHA investigators to inspect each workplace just once. Until employers face substantial costs to their bottom line (as is true in other bodies of law, such as environmental regulation and employment discrimination law), practices like wage theft, retaliation against workers trying to organize a union, and independent contractor misclassification will continue unabated.

    Fourth, we have to do a better job of leveraging the government’s capital. Public money touches millions of private-sector jobs, whether by purchasing goods and services for the government or by funding everything from schools and bridges to health care and social services. There are plenty of innovative models to ensure that this money results in good jobs, whether it’s responsible contracting policies (in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois), living wage laws (in more than 140 cities and counties), or accountable economic development policies (in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and New York City, among others).

    Fifth, we have to explicitly break down systemic labor market exclusions of people of color, immigrants, women, the unemployed, and people with criminal records. For example, advocates are pushing the U.S. Department of Labor to finally end the exemption of home care workers from minimum wage and overtime protection, and cities across the country are passing “ban the box” policies to reduce hiring barriers for people with arrest or conviction records.  

    But we also have to challenge de facto exclusions. A good example is targeted hiring and training programs on publicly funded projects, which in our mind will be crucial to solving the escalating (and chronically under-reported) economic crisis in communities of color. A great example is Portland’s 2009 residential retrofitting program, which mandated living wages and local hiring from designated training programs. As of last year, the program’s workers earned median wages of $18 per hour; fully 84 percent were local residents, nearly half of them people of color. While unemployment is still at Depression-era levels in many black communities, we know what works to employ those still excluded from access to the labor market.

    A final word on why we think these policies (and many others; see the long-form version here) are politically viable. In communities across the country, there is an undeniable thirst for justice on the job and investment in local communities. This is true not just for raising the minimum wage, which consistently polls in the 70-80 percent range, but also policies such as paid sick days, increased funding for elder care and child care, cracking down on wage theft, using taxpayer money to create living wage jobs, and restoring the right to organize.

    (If you doubt support for organizing, consider the recent wave of strikes by Walmart workers, or New York’s taxi workers organizing for better pay even though they are independent contractors, or Palermo’s pizza workers in Wisconsin staying out on strike for three months and now pressuring Costco to boycott their employer.)

    The real question is whether President Obama and Democrats in Congress understand that raising taxes on the top 2 percent is only the first step on a long road toward building a sustainable living wage economy in the U.S. Our hope lies in the growing recognition among progressives that it will take the pressure and power of social movements to convince him to walk that road with us.

    Annette Bernhardt and Dorian Warren are Fellows at the Roosevelt Institute.

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  • A Model Union: New Group Gives Voice to Fashion Workers

    Feb 6, 2012Dorian Warren

    Fashion models are often harassed and exploited, but a new organization seeks to remind us that they deserve the same rights and protections as other workers.

    Fashion models are often harassed and exploited, but a new organization seeks to remind us that they deserve the same rights and protections as other workers.

    I'm proud to announce that one of my former students is launching an exciting new organization of workers: fashion models. Founded by Sara Ziff, the Model Alliance aims to help models in the American fashion industry by promoting better working conditions, giving a voice to fashion's most visible yet least protected workers, and advocating for safe, fair, and healthy standards in the workplace.

    The Model Alliance is the latest organization of workers to emerge from a growing movement of workers often excluded from many employment protections we take for granted. Adding to the efforts of domestic workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and farm workers all seeking a voice at the workplace and to transform their industries for the better, models are organizing to challenge workplace abuses.

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    While most of us share glamorized images of the fashion lifestyle, the reality of working conditions for the vast majority of models is far from glamorous. A survey of U.S.-based models conducted by Ziff and former model Jenna Sauers found that roughly one out of three models has been sexually harassed; two out of three lack privacy while changing; eight out of 10 said their agency's accounting procedures lack transparency, often resulting in "wage theft;" more than two out of three have been told to lose weight; and almost seven out of ten suffer from anxiety and/or depression. In addition, because models are classified as independent contractors, they are exempted from most labor and employment laws (including child labor, overtime, and sex discrimination), and most are without basic health insurance.

    Ziff and her colleagues seek to change this and have already done so with their launch. With the support of Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Model Alliance's "Backstage Privacy Policy" will be implemented in the upcoming New York Fashion Week. For the first time, models won't have to deal with invasive backstage photography and harassment. In addition, with the joint support of Actors' Equity and the American Guild of Musical Artists, the Alliance is starting a confidential sexual harassment reporting service called Model Alliance Support.

    Finally, inspired by the successful campaign of domestic workers and in collaboration with industry leaders and agents, the Alliance has drafted a Models' Bill of Rights, which seeks to articulate a set of broad principles and rights to empower models at the workplace. Imagine: fashion models organizing along with nannies and farm workers to improve working conditions and gain a strong voice at the workplace. This is not your father's labor movement; it's a new labor movement for a new century.

    Dorian Warren is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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  • Dorian Warren: Police Brutality is Reigniting the Occupy Movement

    Nov 22, 2011Dorian Warren

    The shocking police brutality at UC Davis last week was just the latest example of authorities reacting to the Occupy movement with violent contempt. But as Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren tells CNN's Don Lemon, these overbearing attempts to silence protesters might only be helping their cause. "Every time there's a lull in the protests, there's a spark of something that happens, usually police brutality of some kind, that gets people energized again and gets them motivated and recommitted to the Occupy movement," Dorian says.

    The shocking police brutality at UC Davis last week was just the latest example of authorities reacting to the Occupy movement with violent contempt. But as Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren tells CNN's Don Lemon, these overbearing attempts to silence protesters might only be helping their cause. "Every time there's a lull in the protests, there's a spark of something that happens, usually police brutality of some kind, that gets people energized again and gets them motivated and recommitted to the Occupy movement," Dorian says.

    As for the police's actions, Dorian thinks the public will agree that the blithe use of pepper spray is "not very different from firehoses, frankly." And though Mayor Bloomberg seemed to score a major victory by evicting protesters from their home base at Zuccotti Park, Dorian believes that being untethered from a specific location or organizational hierarchy may actually work in the movement's favor. He argues that this nullifies complaints about conditions at the parks and "makes it so that there aren't any particular targets that opponents of Occupy can really focus in on." Ultimately, these crackdowns may simply be giving the movement an opportunity to prove its power and durability.

    For more of Dorian's take on the Occupy movement, check out his early reflection on what's driving the protests and his analysis of their populist message, co-authored with Joe Lowndes for Dissent.

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  • Why No One Should Dismiss Occupy Wall Street

    Oct 4, 2011Dorian Warren

    Despite critiques, they've already deployed strategic tactics and put important issues on the radar.

    "What do they want?" "It won't last." "They're just a bunch of hippie kids."

    Despite critiques, they've already deployed strategic tactics and put important issues on the radar.

    "What do they want?" "It won't last." "They're just a bunch of hippie kids."

    Everybody is now weighing in with their take and critique of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, which is threatening to develop into a national and global movement. But at week three, many of those criticisms are unfair. From my experiences actually being among the protesters and talking with them, what they're building is an important movement that's already putting issues on the political map.

    The Occupy Wall Street grievances that are motivating people to take action are based on the facts of growing inequality in the United States over the last 30 years. And contrary to sociologist Nina Eliasoph's contention that there's an "emptiness of the message itself so far," all of the protesters' complaints point to an overarching set of demands that fall under the themes of greater democracy in our plutocratic and oligarchic political system and greater equality and opportunity in the economy for the "99 percent" of Americans.

    The criticism that they have no demands is also pretty ridiculous at this early stage. Protestor Hero Vincent points out the double standard of the charge: "Our constitution took a year to make. We've been here for three weeks and we're supposed to have an agenda? That makes no sense." Even if the protestors never came up with specific demands, they've already won by garnering media attention and putting the issue of economic inequality on the national agenda. This, in fact, is what movements do best: put issues on the political agenda that the two parties and our political institutions would much rather ignore. And this charge, as Betsy Reed points out, is beside the point. There are plenty of specific demands and policy proposals offered up by progressive and liberal groups, only to be ignored. It takes a social movement to put them on the agenda and in the national political discourse.

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    This critique is also a bit hypocritical, especially when compared with the Tea Party. Remember that when the Tea Party first emerged, they had no clear demands. And what few demands they came up with weren't even based in fact: "President Obama is a socialist" or "Get your government hands off my Medicare."

    The media isn't giving the protesters their fair due, either. It is striking that the coverage of Occupy Wall Street has underplayed how nonviolent and peaceful the protests are. Contrast that with the coverage of the Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010, where angry and older white Americans were showing up strapped with guns at town hall meetings. Can you imagine what would happen if any of the Occupy Wall Street protesters had any weapons on them? I can. (See, for an example, the vilification and outright repression by the police and FBI of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s.) When old, angry white guys show up to public places with guns, they are patriots taking back America. When a diverse group of young, angry, yet fun protestors show up to public places unarmed and nonviolent, they are "hippies" and dismissed for two weeks before police overreaction sparks more media coverage.

    Their tactics may seem unconventional to the establishment, but they threaten to have a lasting effect. Ignore them at your own risk.

    Dorian Warren is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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