The Workers Lab
Jan 5 · 7 min read

Welcome to 2019! As partners, donors, and friends, you have been critical to our success and we are so grateful. We look forward to working with you this year to fulfill our mission of investing in innovation and experiments that build power for working people in the 21st century.

We’re set and ready for a transformative year at The Workers Lab. As many of you know, we’ve been a fiscally sponsored project since our inception in 2014. We are so proud to announce that we are now operating as our very own non-profit corporation. Our growth and this milestone would not have been possible without your support and enthusiasm for our work. Thanks for everything.

As we embark on the fifth anniversary of our mission, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on our progress last year. In 2018, we made an unprecedented investment in innovation taking root all across the country for working people. We made 14 grants totaling more than $1 million. Below is a snapshot of our program work in 2018.


Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund provides entrepreneurs, worker-organizers, and public-sector leaders with resources to test new ideas and find solutions that meet the needs of workers in the 21st Century.

2018 Innovation Fund Winners

Cooperation Jackson has been building in a different way by launching construction in their Fabrication Laboratory in Jackson, MI. They continue to raise funds to complete the city’s first multi-stakeholder cooperative that will serve as a hub of community production that offers coding, digital programming and job training.

The Hood Incubator continues to do incredible work to build power for black and brown communities in the cannabis industry. After ushering ten new startups through their fellowship program, they hosted an investor pitch day and were recently featured in Politico.

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation has launched two new worker-owned companies, hired a new executive director and grown their organization to sixty employees. Our funder and board member, Marguerite Casey Foundation, recently wrote a story about their incredible work and produced this video. As 2018 comes to a close, they are beginning a thoughtful strategic planning process to chart out their work over the next five years.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance recently held a soft launch of Alia, their portable benefits platform for domestic workers. It was covered in Fast Company and is poised to do great things in 2019.

The San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment will partner with San Francisco International Airport to create the San Francisco Airport Workers Fund a benefit that provides workers access to funds to help provide stability during periods of financial volatility. We look forward to partnering with them to take on the payday lending industry while helping workers manage financial emergencies.

The Staffing Cooperative, a worker-owned temp agency for people with barriers to employment out of Baltimore, MD has begun to execute their plan toward 100 members in the next year.


Design Sprint for Social Change

Two-thirds of Americans do not have $1,000 saved and nearly half cannot easily afford $400 when an emergency hits. Adapting Google’s Design Sprint method for product development, we have convened a team of experts, including Rachel Schneider, Dean David Weil and Commonwealth to tackle the “1,000 dollar problem” head on. While we have seen considerable focus on important things like wages and retirement, we were struck by the lack of attention on solutions to meet the real-time, short-term financial needs of workers. At the same time, existing solutions to meet these needs are insufficient, often predatory, and ultimately stressful to whole communities. We know that working people are paying a huge penalty in cases of emergency and we know that those who are filling the solutions gap are some of the worst actors out there. With funding and advisory support from Google and The Rockefeller Foundation, we set out to design, develop and test a cash benefit solution to meet the emergency needs of working people. In 2018, we went directly to users to better understand what kind of a solution would best meet their needs. And we went to some of the largest gig platform companies in the country to talk about the problem and to understand what it would take for them to pay into a solution for their contractors. Ultimately, we landed on and are currently beta testing an emergency grant fund that we will pilot in 2019. To learn more, check out our coverage in Forbes and CNN Money.


Enterprise Institutes

The Enterprise Institute is our premiere gathering for validating promising ideas from entrepreneurs and worker organizers aimed at building power for working people in the 21st Century. In this two-day forum, participating entrepreneurs and worker-organizers are matched with leading investors to complete a business model canvas and get real-time feedback on their ideas and shift them, from concepts to actualized solutions for working people.

Summer 2018: Financial Services and Products that Meet the Pressing Needs of Workers

Earlier this year, we held an Enterprise Institute focused on validating businesses that develop financial tools and products to help working people address financial instability. This convening was coordinated with our Design Sprint. In attendance was Steady and the Family Independence Initiative’s platform UpTogether. UpTogether has expanded their reach into new cities including Chicago where they recently secured $2.6 million to build greater community presence. Check out this recap video of this Enterprise Institute here.

Winter 2018: Weed and Worker Power

Our second Enterprise Institute was focused on the cannabis industry and worker power. We convened a cooperative dispensary called The People’s Dispensary, a delivery service called Community Gardens, and our spring Innovation Fund winner The Hood Incubator. We also had the Social Equity Coordinator from UFCW join our meeting to present research from the unions’ perspective on the potential of the industry to build worker power. Watch the recap video here.


Scale Projects

Once we have validated project ideas, and we have evidence that they can transform an industry or place, we move them to into our scale program. We make a significant three-year investment in these projects.

California Harvesters Inc.
California Harvesters, Inc. (CHI) is an employee benefit company supplying agricultural labor to growers in California’s Central Valley. This first-of-its-kind farm labor contracting company is designed to create high-quality farm labor jobs connected to an ecosystem of support. Where growers would typically look to a farm labor contractor to supply a workforce, CHI has intervened with a new take on farm labor contracting. With a company that is managed by and for farm workers, CHI can supply the same workforce, and engage directly with growers for better wages, benefits, and standards in the industry. Since its inception in April 2018, CHI has gone from an organization of 250 farm workers to approximately 800 with higher wages, with access to benefits, and who get to work directly with growers to set standards. We believe that this model can transform the agriculture industry. To learn more about the California Harvesters, check out this profile by FastCompany.

Workers Defense Project & Certification Associates
Workers Defense Project (WDP) is a membership-based organization that empowers low-income workers to achieve fair employment through education, direct services, organizing and strategic partnerships. In 2018, WDP has taken important steps to expand the Better Builder® Program while maintaining its commitment to professional, efficient, and robust on-site monitoring procedures with Certification Associates to enforce high wage and safety standards on Better Builder® construction sites. The purpose of Certification Associates, as with other Better Builder® certified monitors, is to monitor Better Builder agreements reached between Workers Defense Project and project owners.

The Workers Lab

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The Workers Lab funds innovation and experiments that build power for working people || @theworkerslab || info@theworkerslab.com

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