FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 8TH, 2022
CONTACT: Josh Rosenfeld | Jrosenfeld@kivvitt.com | 908.770.7204
THE SOUTHERN WORKERS OPPORTUNITY FUND FUELS NEW ERA FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS
The fund – which seeks to raise up to $20 million and is bolstered by the nation’s leading philanthropic and labor organizations – will support efforts that empower and better the livelihoods for workers across the U.S. South
WASHINGTON D.C.– Today, the Labor Innovations for the Twenty-First Century (LIFT) Fund launched the Southern Workers Opportunity (SWO) Fund, marking a significant development to strengthen workers’ rights across the U.S. South. The Fund is backed by the nation’s leading labor organizations and philanthropic institutions with a goal of raising $20 million. Its launch comes as part of a broader movement to build a democratic economy centered around worker power, dignified workplace conditions, and the valuation of workers as people first.
“Workers in the South have been at the forefront of the nation’s longest fought battles for better labor conditions, and this is exactly why we at the LIFT Fund are eager to continue our work with the movement for workers’ rights at this pivotal moment,” said Jennifer Epps, Executive Director of the LIFT Fund. “The Southern Workers’ Opportunity Fund presents a new chapter in the history of workers’ rights, and we are grateful to stand alongside leaders from across the South to enact long-term, intersectional change.”
As one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States, the South presents a newfound opportunity to upend how workers are treated, valued, and recognized within our economy. At the moment, the American South is home to some of the poorest working conditions in the nation. Too many states have failed to raise the minimum wage above the federal standard of $7.25. Anti-labor policies are rampant, with only five percent of Southern workers belonging to a union. Taken together, these conditions exacerbate income inequality for residents at large, and specifically residents of color who are more likely to experience higher levels of poverty.
It is clear that the Southern United States is central to the long-term health of the movement for workers’ rights, especially given the region’s historical track-record of catalyzing social change for the betterment of marginalized groups. The SWO Fund will deploy initial investments across Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee to chart a new path for a segment of the country where the ideals of workers’ rights remain unfulfilled, especially for the most marginalized and excluded members of our community.
“Despite an influx of jobs in the US South, wages, working conditions, and the ability to collectively bargain have deteriorated for decades, acutely impacting women, people of color, and low-income households,” said Sarita Gupta, Vice President of US Programs at the Ford Foundation. “Yet, in the face of these challenges, bold worker-led movements for economic prosperity are gaining traction and influencing change across the nation. The Southern Workers Opportunity Fund brings philanthropy and labor organizations together to strengthen these movements, and to reimagine recovery in a way that’s good for workers and the economy.”
From New York to Alabama to Florida, diverse efforts to improve the lives of workers have underscored the need for continued investment in order to improve working conditions, increase quality of life, and allow everyone to participate in and benefit from a prosperous democracy. The victories and lessons these campaigns have brought to the mainstream discussion surrounding workers’ rights contextualize how the SWO Fund will support coalition-building within ecosystems of organizations – including labor, worker centers, and other community-based organizations – to improve the economic livelihoods and social conditions of workers in low wage sectors and beyond.
“Working people across the American South know a collective bargaining agreement is the best tool for achieving dignity and respect on the job,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “Unfortunately, decades of corporate union-busting and attacks on labor law have created a landscape with some of the nation’s poorest working conditions and lowest levels of union density, with marginalized communities suffering the most. The Southern Workers Opportunity Fund investment comes at a pivotal time and will build on the momentum we’re seeing around workplace organizing across all industries of the economy. The SWOF commitment will provide the critical resources needed for workers in the south to sustain their collective action and fight for racial, social and economic justice.”
For over a decade, the LIFT Fund has been building and supporting strong partnerships between labor federations, community organizations, and philanthropic institutions by investing in transformative collaborations that inspire and advocate for workers’ rights while elevating groundbreaking alliances that prioritize racial, gender, and economic justice. In fact, recognizing the importance of the U.S. South to the broader movement for workers’ rights, the SWO Fund leadership team and community leaders have been on the ground in the South to better understand the long history of worker organizing and inform the Fund’s long-term strategy, which is emblematic of the SWO Fund’s goal of leading with a place-based vision centered on the needs of workers.
“Workers in the Southern United States are calling for a new era in the movement for workers’ rights and we are proud to stand by their efforts through our partnership with the Southern Workers Opportunity Fund,” said Elena Conley, Chief Strategy Officer with the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. “At our core, the Babcock Foundation is committed to supporting initiatives that achieve greater social and economic justice, which is why we view this Fund as integral to building a more democratic economy that lifts workers, their families, and the greater community.”
The SWO Fund will begin deploying funds to grantees in Fall 2022 across Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee through an open call. The SWO Fund will invest in supporting coalitions of labor, worker organizations, and community groups that are building worker power across the South with an emphasis on racial, gender, and economic justice.
About the Labor Innovations for the 21st Century Fund:
The Labor Innovations for the 21st Century (LIFT) Fund is a unique collaborative that supports new forms of worker organizing. Since 2011, LIFT has been building partnerships between labor federations, community organizations, and philanthropic institutions by investing in transformative collaborations that inspire and advocate for workers’ rights and elevating groundbreaking alliances that prioritize racial, gender, and economic justice. In 2021, the LIFT Fund launched the Southern Workers Opportunity Fund to invest in the ecosystems that increase worker power and improve the economic livelihoods and social conditions for workers across the U.S. South.
The LIFT Fund is supported by donors committed to empowering workers such as the Ford Foundation, AFL-CIO, SEIU, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Solidago Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Surdna Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Tara Health Foundation, the JPB Foundation, and Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.
For more information about the LIFT Fund and the SWO Fund, please visit: https://theliftfund.org/