Labor Education & Research Center
University of Oregon
Gordon Lafer is a political economist and Associate Professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center. Lafer has served as Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, and has been called to testify as an expert witness before the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and multiple state legislatures. He is also a Research Associate with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), where he has written widely on issues of labor, employment and education policy. His first book, The Job Training Charade, explains why job training schemes remain a politically popular response to unemployment despite their manifest failure.
Lafer started his career as an economic policy analyst in the Office of the Mayor in New York City under Mayor Ed Koch. While earning his PhD at Yale University, he was among the leaders of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, a union of graduate teachers that recently won legal recognition. (See this article in Dissent Magazine for Lafer’s description of one of the early strikes at Yale). After completing his PhD, Lafer remained in New Haven to serve as Research and Communications Director for a coalition of unions representing clerical, technical, service, maintenance and graduate employees at Yale. His work at Yale led Lafer to write several analyses of the corporatization of higher education, including Organizing Graduate Students; “Land and Labor in the Post-Industrial University Town”; and “A Corporate Campaign for the Corporate University.”
In addition to economic policy work, Lafer has also advised a wide range of workers’ organizations and unions, including hotel workers in Hawaii, construction workers in Las Vegas, supermarket workers in California, and nurses in Oregon. In the early 2000s, Lafer worked with International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, in Hawaii, helping raise labor standards in the hotel industry – a campaign described in “The Other Side of Paradise” In 2007-09, Lafer returned to Honolulu to help coordinate an international boycott of the Pacific Beach Hotel, which was found guilty of multiple labor law violations in Federal Court. After a ten-year struggle, the workers were finally successful in winning a union contract at this hotel.
Lafer with his daughter on the picket line in 2008, and in 2014 after the workers’ victory.
In his position in the U.S. Congress, Lafer was the top Congressional staff member responsible for upholding labor standards in international trade treaties, a position in which he worked unsuccessfully to block the Columbia Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His analysis of both parties’ failure on trade policy has appeared in The Hill and Project Syndicate.
Lafer was also the primary Congressional staff person responsible for the Local Jobs for America Act, a bill that would have created one million family-wage jobs and restored essential public services that were cut during the Great Recession. The BILL (link to bill text) was introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the Committee on Education and Labor, and was supported by a majority of Democratic Congresspeople but never became law.
Since leaving Congress, Lafer has written several pieces based on his experience there, including “Why Occupy Wall Street Has Left Washington Behind" and “Focus Voters' Anger on Corporations, Not Just Republicans."
Lafer is a member of the Scholars’ Advisory Council of In the Public Interest, the country’s premier think tank promoting democratic control of public services and public assets. In 2017, Lafer published a major report with ITPI, Spending Blind: The Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Facilities Funding.
Lafer is the founding co-chair of the American Political Science Association’s Labor Project, and serves on the board of directors of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic center of rabbinic research and education based in Jerusalem, Israel.