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Following through on her campaign promise of a commitment to worker power and a history of reaffirming worker’s rights, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced the creation of the Cabinet for Worker Empowerment last week.
The cabinet, led by Trinh Nguyen, “is charged with advancing the well-being of all working Bostonians in both the public and private sectors,” according to a city press release.
But what does it actually mean for workers and employers in the city?
“It’s really a consolidated list of resources for workers and working class families in Boston so that they can take advantage of the skills training, career opportunities, youth development, worker safety, worker protection, and economic mobility in the City of Boston,” Nguyen told Boston.com. “It’s a hub in which workers can access all these resources under one roof.”
The focus of the cabinet extends beyond just the workers themselves, Nguyen said — it also encompasses employers and stakeholders.
“When we talk about worker empowerment, we know that the central focus would be working class families and working families in Boston, but we also need to critically engage employers and other stakeholders within this ecosystem as well,” she said. “Community colleges are really important, workforce training agencies, schools, high schools, and community based nonprofits and supportive services. … It’s workers as a center, but all the other resources are important as well.”
The cabinet is also focused on efficiency.
Rather than having resources surrounding things like worker labor compliance, protection, safety skills, and training all managed by slightly separate people, they will now be under the one umbrella of the Cabinet for Worker Empowerment.
“We really need to ensure that we streamline the back end so we improve customer service front end and accessibility for families and workers in the city of Boston,” Nguyen said. “We don’t want things to be jumbled up, bureaucracies on top of each other, lots of paperwork — so we want to streamline that in the back end, to make it more accessible, efficient and quick.”
To Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, one of the cabinet’s deputy chiefs, the formation of the body demonstrates a “real commitment” to worker empowerment from Wu and her administration.
Sugerman-Brozan has been working in the realm of worker safety for years now and will be focusing on strengthening and building a culture of safety and health across the city. In recent years in Boston there have been a number of high-profile workplace accidents, including the partial collapse of the Government Center parking garage in March.
“Health and safety is a critical piece of that job training and career development because if you’re injured on the job, that means you are unable to work, you’re unable — and sometimes unable to work ever again,” Sugerman-Brozan said. “So ensuring that health and safety is a big part of that. I think a big part of that is workers knowing their rights to health and safety protections under [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.]”
Rashad Cope, the cabinet’s other deputy chief, is currently serving as director of the Department of Youth Engagement & Employment for the city. He will be focusing on coordinating and building on the city’s existing employment initiatives, including connecting with Boston’s educational institutions.
“Boston — and we know this and believe this — has always cared about its workers and workforce development,” Cope said. “And really just taking this approach to increase coordination to really expand new and existing labor and workforce efforts and investing in more equitable employment practices and career growth opportunities for Boston’s workers. It is very exciting.”
Nguyen said the cabinet will work to help integrate skills training and development and career pipelines for both young people and adults.
“We do believe that youth career exploration, workforce readiness plays an important role in preparing our next generation of workers to really be prepared for developing job opportunities,” Cope said.
Beyond empowering people to find jobs, Sugerman-Brozan said she is excited to mobilize resources to keep people safe and content in their jobs.
“There is the the equal access, the pathway to good jobs, and then once you’re in that job, every worker deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, earn a fair wage, and go home alive and well to their families,” she said.
Nguyen said Wu has mentioned that a goal of the cabinet is to set the future of workforce policies up under one umbrella.
“We want to make sure that there are equitable hiring practices from employers,” Nguyen said. “We also want to make sure that from the worker side that they have access to career training, upward mobility career pathways, and other affordable and free resources for that worker to move up the ladder. More importantly, we want to do it in a setting that is helpful [and] protective.”
Cope called the creation of the cabinet “so critical” for Boston’s residents.
“Being a lifelong Boston resident and watching and talking with families, friends, colleagues, and the people who work in Boston, there is passion and a commitment to impact lives in each job across sectors in Boston,” he said. “I would say that any citizen that is employed, wants to make a living for themselves and their family, but most importantly, they want to be supported. They want to be protected and they want to be and they want to be qualified to do their job well.”
The creation of the cabinet comes at an auspicious time, Nguyen said. In the wake of labor changes due to the pandemic, she hopes the cabinet can help Boston recover.
“The labor market is coming back, roaring back. The economic recovery is coming back to even exceeding pre-pandemic levels in certain industries — you can see that in health care, IT for example, supply chain management, life sciences,” she said. “The key is that we don’t want to just build better, we want to build back better together.”
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