How San Francisco Became a Labor Law Enforcement Laboratory

Seema Patel

(Originally published by Zocalo Public Square on March 27, 2024)

In the U.S., there is a chasm between what the labor laws say and what workers experience as their everyday realities. That’s because employment here is based on private contractual law, or agreements between two parties — and the deeply misguided assumption that those two parties have equal bargaining power.

We need to bridge that chasm. Doing so will require stronger unions; more aggressive legislation by Congress; more resources for, and enforcement by, local and federal agencies; and changes in our courts, which have been hostile to labor enforcement and unions.

Until all that happens, the best model we have for enforcing labor laws is in California.

Seema N. Patel is Thomas C. Grey Fellow & Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School and recently completed a term as Practitioner-in-Residence at the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

(Continue reading the opinion essay on Zocalo Public Square’s page here)