News Items

Released new data on labor rights indicators for the year 2016

June 15, 2018

 

The Labour Rights Indicators are based on coding the findings of selected nine sources and compiling this information in a readily accessible and concise manner. It is designed to be used both by practitioners and researchers. It builds on five basic elements: the premises of definitional validity, reproducibility and transparency; the 108 violation type used to code violations in law and practice; the textual sources selected for coding; the general and source-specific coding rules; and the rules to convert the coded information into normalized indicators. The country...

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Tesla Severance Offer Draws the Line on Worker-Safety Concerns

June 18, 2018

Josh Eidelson, Dana Hull
Bloomberg

Language in a confidential severance agreement Tesla Inc. is using as part of the biggest job cut in its history is likely to deter dismissed employees from going public with worker safety concerns, according to employment-law experts.

“The implication is, if you went to OSHA and you said, ‘Here’s something new I want to tell you about a safety concern at Tesla,’ and then OSHA asks the company to respond to that allegation, the company is going to say, ‘That employee told us that they raised everything,’” said Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.

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Series One: Many Roads to Quality Work • Issue Two: Amplifying Workers’ Voices in an Evolving Economy - Invested

May 23, 2018

Representation
Sharon Block is interviewed by Suzanne Cummings
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Understanding the vital importance of strength in numbers to rights and representation, labor unions have served as the central outlet for worker voice in the United States since the New Deal Era. For generations, unions sought to protect and advance workers' right to a safe and fair work environment. While some union organizations remain strong and active today, overall union membership has dropped in the U.S. over the past few decades even as recent surveys show interest growing among nonunion workers in joining unions. Our opening section in this issue on worker voice digs into the reasons for and results of these changing dynamics, and explores how unions are evolving and building new connections within a radically different economy today.

"Union density in this country is now lower than it was before workers had a protected right to join unions. That says to me that there’s something pretty fundamental not working in our law." Sharon Block... Read more about Series One: Many Roads to Quality Work • Issue Two: Amplifying Workers’ Voices in an Evolving Economy - Invested

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Knight: Workers’ ‘day in court’ axed in Court’s arbitration ruling

June 9, 2018

By Bill Knight / Opinion columnist
Pekin Daily Times

 

A U.S. Supreme Court majority on May 21 unleashed employers to run roughshod over labor law, ruling 5-4 that employers can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and other workplace disputes. The Court’s five-justice conservative bloc said employers may require employees, as a condition of employment, to give up any joint legal remedy despite of the guarantee of New Deal laws stating that workers have a right to unionize or “engage in other concerted activities for the purposes...

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A Response to “Rethinking Wage Theft Criminalization”

April 20, 2018

by TERRI GERSTEIN AND DAVID SELIGMAN
OnLabor Blog

 

In his recent post, “Rethinking Wage Theft Criminalization,” Ben Levin argues that “the impulse to use criminal law for ‘progressive’ ends”—like combatting wage theft—“is dangerous; it serves to bolster the carceral state and all of its deep structural flaws.”

In his recent post, “Rethinking Wage Theft Criminalization,” Ben Levin argues that “the impulse to use criminal law for ‘progressive’ ends”—like combatting wage theft—“is dangerous; it serves to bolster the carceral state and all of its deep structural flaws.” We write from the perspectives of lawyers who have had extensive experience protecting workers’ rights, one as a former government enforcer and the other as an attorney at an advocacy organization. While we of course appreciate the deep structural flaws of […]
We write from the perspectives of lawyers who have had extensive experience protecting workers’ rights, one as a former government enforcer and the other as an attorney at an advocacy organization. While we of course appreciate the deep structural flaws of our criminal justice system, we’ve seen how important a tool the criminal law can be in protecting workers from wage theft, and we don’t think that bringing the criminal law to bear on predatory employers who take advantage of vulnerable workers exacerbates the injustices of our criminal justice system. If anything, doing so expresses to the most vulnerable members of society that the criminal law can work for them, not just against them. Progressive policymakers and enforcers would be misguided to eschew the tools of criminal law in combating the scourge of wage theft.

The most important reason to employ criminal law tools in certain wage theft cases is that the civil law, while critically important, also has its limits in deterring illegal conduct, responding promptly to abuses, and in punishing chronic wrongdoers.... Read more about A Response to “Rethinking Wage Theft Criminalization”

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These U.S. Workers Are Being Paid Like It’s the 1980s

May 25, 2018

By Josh Eidelson
in Bloomberg

Thanks to a web of loopholes and limits, the federal government has been green-lighting hourly pay of just $7.25 for some construction workers laboring on taxpayer-funded projects, despite decades-old laws that promise them the “prevailing wage.”

The failure of government to keep up with what’s going on in the labor market, [Erlich] said “is a large piece” of why construction has faded as “a pathway to the middle class.”

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Reviving the Manufacturing Sector, Starting in Middle School

May 22, 2018

By Benjamin Herold
Education Week

"Manufacturing is changing dramatically," said Emily DeRocco, the education and workforce director of Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow, or LIFT. "We want young people to understand that there are actually exciting jobs available."

Her group is one of 14 "innovation institutes" aiming to bring government, industry, and academia together to support technology-related research and education in advanced-manufacturing fields such as clean energy, lightweight materials, and robotics. The groups all fall under the umbrella of Manufacturing USA, a national network of public-private research institutes created under the Obama administration.

 "There is a lot to like about this kind of data-driven approach to connecting educational activities with the world of current and future careers," said Michael S. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the labor and worklife program at Harvard University.... Read more about Reviving the Manufacturing Sector, Starting in Middle School

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Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Workers

May 21, 2018

By Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block
New York Times Opinion

Federal labor law protects the right of workers to join together to improve their conditions, whether through a union or other means. But the court has now carved out a big exception to that longstanding principle. In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the court said that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to bar workers from joining forces in legal actions over problems in the workplace. In other words, workers who are underpaid, harassed or discriminated against will have to press their cases alone in arbitration, rather than with their colleagues in a class-action case, or even with their own lawsuit.

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Regulate With Prejudice? Joint Employer Issue Tests Board Process

May 14, 2018

by Chris Opfer
Bloomberg Law

The board announced last week that it will issue a regulation to resolve the ongoing debate over when one business is a joint employer of another’s workers for unionization purposes. That question has been clouded by conflicting decisions—the board briefly reverted to a more restrictive approach to joint employment and then dropped the ruling—and conflict-of-interest concerns.

“We know where they want to get to now because of the decision in Hy-Brand,” former NLRB Member Sharon Block (D) told Bloomberg Law. “They appear to be using the rulemaking process to do an end run around conflict-of-interest problems.”

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I worked for Eric Schneiderman. And I still believe in government.

May 11, 2018

By Terri Gerstein
Washington Post

Most public servants are true believers. We choose to work for modest pay and little glory. When I used to send my mother news stories about our cases, she would get indignant: “Why doesn’t it mention your name? You did the case!”

After the initial shock wears off, aides try to understand, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible contrast between the person we knew and the person he turned out to be. Were there signs I missed? Is this just something that happens when people have power? Is it that the wrong kind of people are...

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Inside the Labor Department’s Legal Brain Drain

May 11, 2018

by Ben Penn
Bloomberg Law

A century-plus of combined legal expertise is leaving the Labor Department, setting up four key vacancies in an office with unheralded influence on the administration’s workplace agenda.

The DOL’s associate solicitors for employment and training (Jeffrey Nesvet), occupational safety and health (Ann Rosenthal), and administrative law and ethics (Robert Shapiro), along with the New England regional solicitor (Michael Felsen), are either about to retire or recently did so—all after lengthy careers in the senior civil service....

“Those are four people who have been involved in every important decision in their areas for decades. It’s a tremendous loss,” Sharon Block, who was a senior counselor to Obama’s Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, told Bloomberg Law. “All of us who were there as politicals relied so heavily on the career leadership to provide just that straight up advice on what the law is and what the history of these issues has been, without being outcome-determined in how that information was presented.”... Read more about Inside the Labor Department’s Legal Brain Drain

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Why MBAs haven’t got a clue about front-line workers: Business school programs ignore the plight of the working class. That must change.

April 26, 2018

By Jeremy Avins, Megan Larcom and Jenny Weissbourd 
Boston Globe

"Harvard’s Trade Union Program has since shrunk and moved to the law school, physically and ideologically distant from the minds of business leaders. In today’s MBA programs, writes MIT Sloan School of Management professor Thomas Kochan, “Labor relations is often either ignored or, if covered, curricula tend to focus on how to avoid rather than how to work with” workers’ rights groups."

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MEDA: On Democracy at Work 

April 14, 2018

By Dominique Méda
Le Monde  

The « Firm and Common Interest" report, requested and submitted on March 9 by Nicole Notat and Jean-Dominique Senard to the French Government, proposes to reinforce co-determination - the participation of employees in the management of the company. At the proposed level, it will certainly not allow French employees to give voice as much as their counterparts in Sweden or Germany. But this proposal makes it clear in the public debate that the company is a political entity.

In the book just published by Belgium's sociologist and political scientist Isabelle Ferreras (Firms as Political Entities, Cambridge University Press, 2017, not translated to french), this idea is at the heart of her thinking, and she deduces logically that corporate governance should result from the election by two "chambers" - one representing the capital contributors, the other the labor contributors - this government having to collect the majority in each of them.... Read more about MEDA: On Democracy at Work 

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 "We must make French companies benefit from a shock of democratic competitiveness"

April 20, 2018

By Isabelle Ferreras Professor of Sociology at the University of Leuven (Belgium)
Le Monde - Op-Ed

"The firm is a political entity, and must therefore be governed according to the rules of democracy with the participation, on an equal footing, of workers and capital investors," says the sociologist Isabelle Ferreras, in a forum in Le Monde.

The recent Notat-Senard report commissioned by the French government, which brings to life the reflections of Pierre de Gaulle, Pierre Mendes France and Michel Rocard, makes a correct diagnosis: the 21st century firm is much more than a « corporation » , this legal instrument serving shareholders. But it is also more than an "object of collective interest", as the report modestly describes it.... Read more about  "We must make French companies benefit from a shock of democratic competitiveness"

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