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Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer Symposium

Since 1984, the Edward V. Sparer Symposium has been one of the Law School’s cornerstone events. By focusing on urgent social justice issues of our time, the Sparer Symposium commemorates the life and work of the late Edward V. Sparer, Professor of Law and Social Policy. The Symposium brings together academics, practitioners, community members, activists, and organizers to provide insight into the dynamic relationship between scholarship and practice in the area of poverty law.

43rd Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

43rd Sparer Symposium Poster The 43rd Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium will be held on Friday, February 9, 2024 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.

The symposium, Nothing Works Unless We Do: Harnessing Labor’s Power, will examine the current state of labor and organizing in the United States alongside its intersecting social movements. In conversation with activists, lawyers, and scholars, we will explore how the definition of labor has evolved across time, how workers have adapted to the changing labor landscape, and how we can move collectively toward a world that prioritizes the needs and rights of workers across various communities. 

This year’s symposium will be fully in-person.

Click here to register for the 43rd Annual Sparer Symposium  


8:30 AM | Registration and Continental Breakfast


9:00 AM | Opening Remarks

Ayanna Williams, Director of Public Interest Initiatives

9:30 AM | “Hot Labor Summer”: Resurgence of the Labor Movement (1.5 substantive CLE)

In the summer of 2023, more than 453,000 workers participated in at least 230 strikes across the nation. From teachers in Los Angeles, bus drivers in Baton Rouge, and autoworkers in Detroit, to graduate students in Philadelphia, screenwriters in Hollywood, and nurses in countless cities, workers demanded improved pay and benefits. This so-called “hot labor summer” marked a resurgence in labor organizing. But what was behind it? In conversation with local, national, and international experts, this panel will explore the laws, practices, and regulations that govern labor, including what labor rights encompass, who gets to define these rights, and how the current struggle for expanded rights impacts these definitions and communities.

Arvind GanesanDirector, Economic Justice and Rights Division, Human Rights Watch

David Huang, Staff Attorney, Employment Unit, Community Legal Services

11:00 AM | Movements United: How Advocates Can Prioritize Labor’s Demands  (0.5 substantive/1.0 ethics CLE)

Investing in technological innovation, addressing the climate crisis, and rewriting immigration laws and policies are leading priorities for lawmakers and interest groups alike. However, without proper planning, foresight, and worker-led advocacy, workers across industries will likely face adverse consequences and labor organizing efforts will suffer as a result. Through a discussion between scholars, practitioners, and organizers, this panel will interrogate the tension points between notions of societal progress at large and the demands of labor movements around the country. It will also explore legal and extra-legal strategies that embrace the promise of innovation without undermining workers’ rights.

Amy Laura Cahn L’09, Legal Director, Taproot Earth

Cynthia Estlund, Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Tito Sinha, Director and Supervising Attorney, Workers’ Rights Project, TakeRoot Justice

12:30 PM | Lunch


1:00 PM | Labor and the Carceral State: Organizing from the Inside Out  (0.5 substantive/1.0 ethics CLE)

Ratified in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States “except as a punishment for a crime.” Today, more than 2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails and another 4.5 million are under supervision through probation and parole. Many are performing labor either structured or compelled by the laws and policies that comprise the carceral state. This panel will explore the intersection between labor and carceral systems of governance, including the Thirteenth Amendment’s involuntary servitude exception, the collateral consequences of incarceration upon reentry, and the role of organized labor in ending mass incarceration.

Rasheeda Bagwell, Reentry and Restorative Justice Coordinator

Jamie Gullen L’12, Managing Attorney, Employment Unit and Youth Justice Project, Community Legal Services

Amani Sawari, National Spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak’s 2018 National Prison Strike

Bianca Tylek, Founder and Executive Director, Worth Rises

2:30 PM | Advocates as Organizers: Labor Movements in Legal Spaces (1.0 substantive/0.5 ethics CLE)

Legal professionals face many of the same types of workplace challenges as other employees, from pay disparities to hostile work environments and various forms of discrimination. What are the legal and ethical implications of labor organizing within “professional” spaces, including the legal profession itself? This panel will examine the current landscape of unionization efforts among lawyers, support staff, and graduate students, as well as the complications that arise when the advocates themselves become champions for better working conditions.

Tony Abata, Eviction Diversion Program Coordinator, Housing Unit, Community Legal Services

Timothy R. Cain, Professor, Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education, University of Georgia

Paul Sindberg L’23, Associate, Leonard Carder LLP; Former Organizer of Graduate Employees Together at UPenn-UAW

4:00 PM | Keynote Address (1.0 substantive CLE)

Gwynne A. Wilcox, BoardMember, National Labor Relations Board

5:00 PM | Closing Remarks and Reception


This program has been approved for a total of 7.0 (4.5 Substantive and 2.5 Ethics) CLE credits for Pennsylvania lawyers. Attendees seeking CLE credit can make a payment via cash or check made payable to The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania  on the day of the event in the amount of $140.00 ($70.00 public interest/non-profit attorneys). In order to receive the appropriate amount of credit, evaluation forms must be completed.

Penn Carey Law Alumni receive CLE credits free through The  W.P. Carey Foundation’s generous commitment to Lifelong Learning.


Sparer 2021

Reimagining Freedom

40th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2019

Divesting from State Violence

38th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2016

A Country Divided

36th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2014

Law 2.0: Progress and Challenges for Justice in the Digital Age

34th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2011

Partnering Against Poverty

30th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2009

Crime in the City

28th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium