Turning Rules into Resources: Worker Enactment of Labor Standards Beyond Compliance and Why It Matters for Regulatory Federalism
Labor standards are not just enforced; they are enacted, and often in ways that are different from their stated intention. This distinction creates an opening to consider the ways that frontline workers extend and repurpose enforcement practices. Drawing on qualitative research in two US cities, the authors focus on Latino immigrant construction workers to identify the strategies they use to rework formal safety mandates to advance technical knowledge, create skill-based alliances across organizational hierarchies, and protect career trajectories. These resourcing strategies were present in both locations, but workers’ ability to affect the quality of their jobs through the collective enactment of labor standards varied significantly by city and depended on the enforcement practices in play. Workers’ attention to these localized resourcing opportunities suggests possibilities for progressive innovation at the multiple levels of government driving emerging research on regulation and federalism.