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Investors can help prevent “race to the bottom” on labour conditions

October 7, 2022

Ben Hurley
Top 1000 Funds

Investors should avoid simple one-number metrics when assessing whether companies have good labour practices for their workers, according to labour lawyer and former Biden and Obama Administration official Sharon Block.

Rather, they should look to a range of metrics to gain a broader insight into worker conditions, and the level of respect a company has towards workers’ rights to organise and collectively bargain, she said.... Read more about Investors can help prevent “race to the bottom” on labour conditions

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Railroad Companies Almost Inflicted an Economic Disaster on the U.S.

September 15, 2022


All because they chose profits over humane working policies.

In the end, railroad companies are highly complex operations with extremely sophisticated logistics. It’s not plausible that it’s an unsolvable challenge for them to find a way for workers to take unpaid unscheduled leave for urgent reasons without penalizing them, which is perhaps why they ultimately made concessions. Maybe it was hard for companies to look Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in the face and say they just couldn’t figure it out.

Meanwhile, as we breathe a sigh of relief that there will not be a strike or lockout on Friday, we should remember what this fight is really about: the persistent difficulty some large corporations have in understanding that their workers are human beings, and not just one more piece of machinery.


U.S. railroad worker fight for pay, benefits could be model for other deals

September 16, 2022

By Lisa Baertlein and Doyinsola Oladipo

Union railworkers in the United States scored a potential key victory in their fight for improved pay and working conditions on Thursday in what could be a model for other unions.

"The pandemic gave workers a different view on what they should have to put up with at work. It's just not OK to go back to the way things were," Harvard Law School Professor Sharon Block said.

Indeed, railworkers received support from several industry groups representing hundreds of customers, who in letters to lawmakers complained rail service suffered from layoffs and other cutbacks while prices increased. Railroads inflamed that ire by cutting rail services before this week's deadline for a deal, worsening train delays and cargo backups.... Read more about U.S. railroad worker fight for pay, benefits could be model for other deals

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A super-sized labor experiment

September 14, 2022

Adrian Ma
NPR Interview

Historically, building a union in the United States has been a grassroots process. For example, while workers at one Chipotle may succeed in bargaining for better wages, that doesn't guarantee the same success for the Chipotle across town or the Qdoba down the street.

But California's FAST Recovery Act (Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act) may flip America's labor dynamic on its head. Instead of a bottom-up approach, why not a top-down approach where industry representatives decide on working standards for all? There's even a phase for this: Sectoral bargaining.... Read more about A super-sized labor experiment

Mandatory overtime is garbage

Mandatory overtime is garbage

September 22, 2022

By Emily Stewart 

Many American workers have very little control over their schedules. For some, that translates to too few hours, or a complete lack of control of when they’re expected to work week to week. For others, it means too many hours they can’t say no to. Often (but not always), mandatory overtime comes with a carrot of being paid time and a half for their labor. Sometimes, the carrot isn’t worth it, but workers have no choice. Their employer also has the stick and can fire them for refusing.

“There’s essentially no scheduling protection for workers in this country, and we have a problem on both ends of the spectrum,” said Sharon Block, a law professor at Harvard and former Biden administration official. “You don’t even have protections when you complain about it unless you do it collectively. But if you, just as an individual, go to your boss and say, ‘I’m just really tired of working all this overtime, do you think you could not schedule me for overtime this week?’ An employer can fire you for that.”

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‘It just shouldn’t be this hard’

September 26, 2022

By Brett Milano
Harvard Law Today

“The real world is exciting and fun in a way, which for labor lawyers hasn’t always been true,” she said in a conversation with Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry Benjamin I. Sachs. Block recently returned to Harvard as executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School after a career that included key positions in both the Obama and Biden administrations — serving on the former’s National Labor Relations Board, and as acting administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Biden.

We’re seeing organization in workplaces that were previously thought to be un-organizable. These workers are getting over that hurdle, so is that going to inspire more organizing?

The path to change, she said, may instead be political. “Not to abandon organizing but having more people in Congress who will vote for labor law reform. You mobilize people around the big issues, not by nibbling around the edges.”

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Why does work feel so dysfunctional right now? A psychologist, labor expert and CEO weigh in

September 26, 2022

Jennifer Li

If you’ve talked to anyone about work in the last month, you’ve probably discussed quiet quitting (or setting boundaries), the not-so-quiet backlash from bosses, and even warnings of quiet firing (or managing out).

Railroad workers prepared to go on strike. Starbucks workers are unionizing. Teachers and nurses, burned out beyond belief in year three of the pandemic, say they’re reaching a breaking point.

All the while, the Great Resignation has become less of an anomaly as sky-high turnover every month has become the new norm. Even worries of a looming recession and mounting layoffs haven’t shaken workers’ confidence.

The power struggles between workers and bosses may have buzzy catchphrases now, but they’re really nothing new, says Sharon Block, professor and executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.... Read more about Why does work feel so dysfunctional right now? A psychologist, labor expert and CEO weigh in

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The Role of State Attorneys General in Protecting Workers’ Rights

September 4, 2022

Terri Gerstein
American Constitution Society

State Attorneys General (AGs) are playing an increasingly visible and important role in relation to workers’ rights. Although historically AGs have not been deeply involved in labor matters, since 2015, AG action in this area has mushroomed: ten states have dedicated labor units of various kinds, several jurisdictions have passed legislation granting state AGs expanded jurisdiction allowing them to address labor violations, and many AGs have brought cases to enforce workers’ basic rights.

As the midterms approach, with AG elections occurring in 30 states plus the District of Columbia, it is important to understand not only what AGs do in general, but also what they are doing and can do to protect our country’s workers.

Some state AGs have begun to play an increasingly visible and important role in protecting workers’ rights. On Labor Day 2022, it is worth celebrating this growing trend, while also noting the tremendous untapped potential that remains for more AGs to take up these issues in a pro-worker and constructive manner.... Read more about The Role of State Attorneys General in Protecting Workers’ Rights

Property Rights and Union Rights

Property Rights and Union Rights

September 5, 2022

 Benjamin Sachs
OnLabor Blog

As part of our Labor Day coverage, I’m posting my take on the Supreme Court’s decision in Cedar Point NurseryOnLabor readers can access the full article on The Supreme Court Review’s website (for thirty days) and the article’s Introduction is posted below. The bottom line? Only by ignoring what the United Farm Workers actually did in the 1960s and 70s, and only by ignoring what labor law actually does, can the Supreme Court conclude that the union access rights at issue in the case were an unconstitutional taking of property. Had the Court acknowledged the contributions to public safety and pesticide health facilitated by California’s agricultural labor relations act, the Court’s own reasoning would have required the opposite holding.

This Labor Day We’re Inspired, but It Shouldn’t Be This Difficult

This Labor Day We’re Inspired, but It Shouldn’t Be This Difficult

September 5, 2022

by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs 
OnLabor Blog

For those of us who support unions, we have an unfamiliar feeling this Labor Day. It’s a feeling of hope and celebration. This is unfamiliar territory because union organizing has been in a free fall for decades now. But we can smile this Labor Day because American workers have delivered a lot to celebrate and, even more importantly, a lot to be inspired by. Workers this year have accomplished what just a few years ago seemed impossible — they have created positive momentum for a labor movement that many left for dead. Baristas at Starbucks, warehouse workers at Amazon, geniuses at Apple, crew members at Trader Joe’s, and salespeople at REI all now share an unexpected common title — union member. And we can see in the results of Gallup’s latest poll that this momentum is contagious: support for unions among the public — 71 percent — is at the highest level since 1965.

But we find our celebratory mood tempered somewhat by a recognition of two things: first, the enormous effort it took for workers to achieve these victories, and, second, how much difficult work remains ahead. Put simply, it just shouldn’t be this hard, this heroic, this extraordinary, to organize a union and bargain a contract.... Read more about This Labor Day We’re Inspired, but It Shouldn’t Be This Difficult

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The Real Victims of Cancel Culture Are America’s Workers

September 5, 2022

Employees are all too readily fired just for speaking out about conditions at work.

Employers commonly take drastic measures to cancel workers who speak out virtually every day. Two household names—Amazon and Starbucks—have been among the most visible companies quashing worker expression in recent months. Amazon fired former warehouse worker and now Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls for organizing a protest about workplace safety during the height of New York’s first COVID-19 wave. The company later called the police on Smalls when he delivered pizza to former co-workers in a break room. More recently, Amazon called the police to deal with union organizers at its Albany, New York, warehouse.

But for those expressing deep concern about silencing of people’s voices, for those who genuinely hold a core belief in free expression, Labor Day should be their holiday, too. It’s high time for everyone who cares about free speech to fight for the people most frequently and all too easily canceled for speaking up: our country’s workers.

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Do Men Really Age Better, Or Do We Tend To Dismiss Older Women As Irrelevant?

September 7, 2022


As if society’s constant scrutiny over women’s bodies was not enough, now a new Twitter ad for a health and wellness app wants to stereotype how older women look. The promotional ad was advocating a daily walking challenge for women across 45 to 65 age groups when they went a little overboard with their graphics. The ad displayed a woman in the age group of 45-50 carrying a cane stick, with white hair and a wrinkled face.

The regressive poster was first noted by lawyer Terri Gerstein, who called out the advertisement on Twitter by writing, “Is this what they think women over 45 look like?” Gerstein further added that she appreciates and sends her love to women with any health and disability issues, “My reason for sharing the post was because of my shock at the bizarre & offensive graphics! I realise the exercise routines described might be good for many people but depending on their own situation & people of all ages should feel great about starting to exercise at whatever level.”... Read more about Do Men Really Age Better, Or Do We Tend To Dismiss Older Women As Irrelevant?

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Rail-Strike Deadline Carries Economic and Political Risks for Biden

September 11, 2022

ByJosh Eidelson and Augusta Saraiva

Tens of thousands of US railroad workers could be on strike by the end of this week, a potential new shock to supply chains that would pose a pre-midterm political quandary for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

“In this moment where there’s so much public concern about supply chain and inflation, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Congress to step in,” said Sharon Block, who worked in the Obama and Biden administrations and is now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and...

Read more about Rail-Strike Deadline Carries Economic and Political Risks for Biden

While Fighting Workers, Railroads Made Over $10 Billion in Stock Buybacks – Kenny Stancil

September 22, 2022

WSW Staff
Wall Street Window

At the same time they have fought to deny sick days and other vital benefits to workers in the freight industry, rail carrier executives have been rewarding shareholders with billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividend bumps.

Last week, labor lawyer Jenny Hunter and Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, argued in Slate that railroad companies nearly inflicted an economic catastrophe on the U.S. because they chose profit-maximization over humane workplace policies.... Read more about While Fighting Workers, Railroads Made Over $10 Billion in Stock Buybacks – Kenny Stancil

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Federal Official Recommends Rejecting Amazon’s Bid to Overturn Staten Island Union Election Results

September 2, 2022

The City, NYC

In a step toward affirming the groundbreaking vote on Staten Island that created the nation’s first union of Amazon warehouse workers, a National Labor Relations Board official recommended rejecting the e-commerce giant’s claims that the vote was invalid.

While the NLRB’s decision on Thursday was a welcome win for the workers, their battle is far from over – and a first contract is still out of reach.

“The company and the union must bargain in good faith…. That means that they must agree to meet at a reasonable time in private and try to reach an agreement,” the workforce staffing manager, identified as Eric, said. “The law does not say that they have to reach an agreement. They just have to try to.”

That’s one reason why it takes an average of 465 days for workers to sign a first union contract, according to a recent Bloomberg Law analysis.

Sharon Block, a professor at Harvard Law School and executive director of the school’s Labor & Worklife Program, said the loophole amounts to a “huge flaw” in federal labor law that erodes worker morale.

“From an employer’s perspective who doesn’t want to bargain, you just pay some lawyers a little bit of money, and you can forestall bargaining,” she said. “Meanwhile, the union has to expend resources, almost continually organizing because you have a bargaining unit that’s saying, ‘Well, what did we do this for?’ And it’s not the union’s fault – It’s just this weakness in the law.”

“It just shouldn’t be this hard,” Block added.... Read more about Federal Official Recommends Rejecting Amazon’s Bid to Overturn Staten Island Union Election Results