Future of Work- The Treaty of San Francisco (1/3): Can California Model the Future of Work?

America today desperately needs a 21st-century model that enables companies and increasingly independent workers to thrive together in our new high-tech, global economy. We can’t wait for the federal government to solve all this anytime soon. Is it time for a “Treaty of San Francisco” which modernizes the 1950 “Treaty of Detroit?”

The “Treaty of Detroit” cracked the model for how both workers and companies could thrive in the post-war

In the first hour of our Treaty of San Francisco event, we focused on the historical Treaty of Detroit, and what the future of work might look like for the labor side of the equation. In the 15-minute presentation that kicked off the event, Reinvent Founder and CEO Peter Leyden explained the 1950 Treaty of Detroit, a deal hammered out between General Motors and the United Auto Workers that set the precedent for the employer-sponsored safety net model that we have today. Our 21st century economy looks very different—up to one-third of American workers now identify as independent workers. Given this reality, Leyden asked the group gathered, how do we change the system to better enable workers to thrive in this new environment?

Former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm took the stage next to talk about her experience governing Michigan, where “the hulking shells of factories dotted communities all across the state.” The question is, Granholm said, in the 21st century, where our economic competitors globally are providing services in a way that we have not historically done, what is the new model? And more importantly, who pays for it—and how? Granholm is skeptical of both universal basic income (UBI), which she referred to as Silicon Valley’s guilt tax, and the idea that a state like Michigan would willingly sign on to something called “The Treaty of San Francisco.”  You would have to have partners to see widespread acceptance, Granholm said.

Next up was Natalie Foster, an advisor to the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative.This is bigger than the gig economy, Foster said. It’s about work that is volatile, even in jobs that are supposed to be stable. Work doesn’t pay anymore, and much of the risk has shifted from employer to employee. Foster and Governor Granholm were then joined by Co-Founding Partner of the Urban Economy Group Ahmad Mansur, who urged the audience to challenge their basic assumptions around how we look at income and the narrative of the middle class. The idea of the middle class comes with certain consumptive behaviors that are no longer as applicable, Ahmad argues. He believes that rather than matching wages with cost of living, we should be thinking about matching them with productivity.