Employment and labor law enjoys fertile ground at Berkeley Law, with prominent faculty specializing in the field, close connections to influential advocacy organizations, and a student-led journal and clinical group.
Now, the school has a hub pulling all those strands together: The Center for Law and Work (CLAW), led by Professors Catherine Albiston ’93, Lauren Edelman ’86, and Catherine Fisk ’86. They say the timing — as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to crush workers, especially at the lower-wage end of the spectrum — couldn’t be better.
“This area of law is desperately in need of attention,” Edelman says. “It’s particularly important when so many people are out of work or underemployed in jobs that pay far less than what they earned before the pandemic.”
Tackling work issues from a theoretical and a policy perspective, the center fosters cross-disciplinary scholar-ship and professional development among students and alumni — nearly 10% of whom practice in the field. CLAW is forging ties with law school and campus organizations, including the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
Rey Fuentes ’19, former journal co-editor-in-chief and leader of the student-run Workers’ Rights Clinic, sees CLAW letting students, practitioners, and academics access all the work happening in the field at Berkeley Law.
“Having permanent faculty representation to help guide, shape, and synthesize that work will help institutionalize employment and labor law advocacy,” he says. “This gives students a complete view of what their path would look like if they go in this direction. It opens up so many opportunities.”
The center’s first event, a symposium on how to reform policing through changing labor relations, took place Jan. 29. Eminent voices on all sides of the debate addressed the challenge of achieving meaningful reform while police unions wield great influence over law enforcement agencies and the politicians who oversee them.
CLAW’s faculty leaders are leading scholars who inhabit different spheres of employment and labor law. Edelman examines how organizations are influenced by their legal environments; Fisk focuses on unions, workers’ rights movements, and the First Amendment; and Albiston examines gender, discrimination, and family and medical leave laws.
“We want our students, faculty, and campus to be at the forefront of drafting these new policies and understanding the intricacies of the new labor market,” Albiston says. “And we especially want to be sure we’re taking into account the needs of all workers.”
Fisk says workers’ rights draws many students to Berkeley Law, and that the school offers some of the best empirical and policy-oriented research in California and the nation.
“Berkeley is poised to be a thought leader on the law and policy solutions to these problems,” she says. “We needed an organized way to harness the scholarly resources that are already here, to connect to the huge alumni network in this area, and to incubate ideas.”
— Gwyneth K. Shaw