This brief foreword introduces the symposium entitled “The Low-Wage Worker: Legal Rights – Legal Realities,” setting forth its focus, purpose, and agenda. This symposium is an effort to turn attention to low-wage work, a topic that is among the most important of work law topics and yet the most neglected. Some articles debate two key assumptions under the Fair Labor standards Act (FLSA): first, whether minimum wage laws improve the economic circumstances of low-wage workers, and second, whether the statute can effectively remedy violations. Other articles offer recent and historical accounts of the effectiveness of organizing as a tool to protect the legal rights of low-wage workers. A third set of articles focus on the unique challenges faced by immigrant workers in seeking enforcement of their labor and employment rights. The final set of articles examine efforts by states and localities to address the employment rights of low-wage workers in the retail industry, directed at Wal-Mart and other “big box” stores. The articles in this symposium address four of the most pressing and significant employment and labor policy issues of the decade: the effect and enforcement of basic legal protections in low-wage workplaces; the prospects of unions and other organizing efforts among the most difficult-to-organize low-wage workers; the difficulty of crafting meaningful legal rights for transnational workers in a globalized labor market; and the respective role that local and national law and activism will play in regulating the low-wage service sector and retail jobs that are increasingly dominated by enormous multinational companies like Wal-Mart.


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