The workplace justice lab@RU is experimenting with small businesses in Minneapolis

Star Tribune Reports on Pilot Project's Launch

On December 15, 2022, the Star Tribune reported on the launch of the pilot project to provide subsidized payroll and bookkeeping services to small businesses with the goal of improving job quality and labor compliance. The City of Minneapolis provided seed funding for the pilot, and the program is a collaboration among the City, workplace justice lab@RU, Main Street Alliance, and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers.

wjl@RU receives major grant from WorkRise

The workplace justice lab at Rutgers University is proud to receive a major grant from WorkRise, a research-to-action network on jobs, workers, and mobility based at the Urban Institute. The grant will support a pilot study in partnership with the City of Minneapolis Labor Standards Enforcement Division on Small Business High-Road Labor Standards Intervention to build the state of knowledge on promising programs and interventions aimed at strengthening upward economic mobility and career advancement for low-wage workers. The nine projects that received funding will test a variety of workforce strategies: digital upskilling for vulnerable workers, leveraging data science to improve equity and access to employment opportunities, or working with small businesses on improving job quality.

Supporting Small Business to Meet & Exceed Minneapolis’s Labor Standards

Main Street Alliance and the Workplace Justice Lab @ Rutgers University, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, have entered into an exciting partnership to better understand the strategies that best support small businesses to create healthy, just, and equitable jobs through meeting and/or exceeding minimum labor standards.

While some businesses adopt a low-road strategy and a strong regulatory framework will need to remain in place in order to protect worker’s rights, we know that many businesses would choose a strategy that invests in their employees with the right government support and interventions.

We are particularly interested in supporting very small, immigrant and BIPOC-owned small businesses, where multiple challenges with language, capital and service access can hinder compliance. By more deeply understanding the key sectors and networks in which these businesses operate, our goal is to identify key moments and interventions that can set up businesses towards a high-road model. This is a first-of-its kind study to work on a vexing puzzle that can lead to significant benefits for workers, businesses and the local economy.

Currently, in most American cities and states, labor enforcement has been largely separated from small business support. Even when these functions are nominally in the same agency or office, they typically do not work together. This means that an opportunity to collaborate to both support small businesses and help them come into compliance with labor standards is lost. France and Spain among other countries utilize an integrated business support and enforcement model. While the firm is expected to come into compliance with the law, and there are fines and penalties applied, payment does not discharge a firm from its responsibility to reform and it is the inspector’s role to advise and guide the firm toward a higher road model.

We identified Minneapolis as a unique city for this project due to the history of strong small business and worker center organizing and the existence of both the City of Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, Office of Labor Standards enforcement and the Minneapolis Small Business Office.

This project combines community organizing, academic research and a community round-table to identify strategies we can test in Minneapolis.

  • Organizing including in-depth interviews with small business owners and worker’s rights groups to better understand what leads to long-term labor standards compliance.
  • Academic research into Minneapolis’s labor law violation trends by industry sector, business size and demographics, as well as innovative public and private proposals and practices for supporting small businesses to increase high road business practices.
  • Round-table: Community, business and city partnership round-table to identify a strategy or strategies to implement based on discussions, expertise, and findings from the field assessment.
  • Capacity building: Work with small business owners and networks to identify the supports and capacities small businesses need in order to meet standards, adopt high-road practices, and strengthen their businesses.
Minneapolis Small Business and Labor Enforcement Roundtable

In August 2022, we launched the Minneapolis Small Business and Labor Enforcement Roundtable, which brings together small business owners, community organizations, and government agencies and legislators to identify challenges to small businesses in raising job quality and pilot potential solutions.Janice Fine presents at 1st Minnesota Small Business Roundtable.