UC Berkeley School of Law establishes center to promote study of workers’ rights

Photo of Catherine Fisk, Lauren Edelman, Catherine Albinston
From left to right: Catherine Fisk, Lauren Edelman, Catherine Albiston

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UC Berkeley School of Law’s new Center for Law and Work, or CLAW, aims to promote the study of workers’ rights — an issue of heightened importance since COVID-19 pandemic’s adverse impact on employment.

Introduced this fall, CLAW intends to serve as an “institutional hub” where students, faculty, alumni and campus organizations can address problems faced by workers, according to a Berkeley Law press release. The center also aims to develop scholarship on workplace law and curate “creative policy solutions” regarding the legal regulation of work, said CLAW co-director and campus law professor Catherine Fisk.

“Through facilitating scholarship and the professional development of students, we can contribute to policy and legal debates about addressing the problems of law and the workplace,” Fisk said. “Our hope is that this will enable students to become better lawyers.”

Fisk added that CLAW seeks to advance more effective regulations for working conditions in response to the “unprecedented levels” of economic inequality in the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected labor and is a “crisis of work,” according to Fisk.

While many have lost their jobs as businesses have closed, Fisk noted, others must still work as attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been blocked by arguments that cutting jobs will hurt the economy.

“There shouldn’t be a choice between protecting public health on the one hand and preventing job loss and destitution on the other,” Fisk said. “The fact that it is perceived as a choice is a reflection of the failure of law and policy.”

At CLAW, faculty and student research will be accessible to lawyers and policymakers outside academia, Fisk said. Additionally, by exposing law and graduate students to “interdisciplinary engagement,” the center intends to aid their identification of new research toward policy solutions.

Fisk said CLAW will “flourish” once the pandemic is over, as faculty and students will meet in person, and alumni will be able to mentor students about labor and employment law.

“After the pandemic, I think, the long-standing structural problems with work, especially low wage work … will have to be addressed,” Fisk said.

Through policy-related programs on current issues, CLAW hopes to “spark dialogue” between scholars and students at UC Berkeley, as well as between policymakers outside the academic world.

In doing so, the center will act as a “clearinghouse” for the work being done to locate policy solutions to the critical issues surrounding the legal regulation of work, Fisk added.

“I am very excited about this new center,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, in an email. “It is consistent with our strong public mission and I believe it has the potential to make a real difference.”

Contact Olivia Moore at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_moore18 .