2020

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

April 17, 2020

By John Nichols
The Nation

Mid mounting frustration with the extent to which the president has been able to frame the discourse about Covid-19 and its consequences, some of the savviest thinkers about politics and governing have been asking, as Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout did recently, “Where is Congress during a deadly pandemic?” Her answer: “They should be in session every day. Remotely.”

So the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is stepping up to show how it can—and should—be done. Next Thursday, April 23, the CPC will convene the first in a series of remote congressional hearings to highlight bold and necessary proposals for responding to the pandemic and to the economic crisis that has developed as a result. 

Organized along the lines of a traditional House hearing, the “Preventing Layoffs” hearing will be chaired by Pocan and Jayapal and feature expert testimony from Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, and Amanda Ballantyne, the director of the Main Street Alliance, a group that advocates for small businesses.

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Don’t let Big Gig game the system

April 18, 2020

SHARON BLOCK and  MIKE FIRESTONE
Commonwealth Magazine

IN ITS SWEEPING RESPONSE to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress threw a financial lifeline to millions of Americans and made so-called “gig economy” workers, like Uber drivers, eligible for unemployment assistance for the first time. But the economic crisis begs the question why Uber drivers weren’t eligible already.

The answer is simple. It’s because, unlike other Massachusetts businesses, Uber doesn’t pay unemployment insurance to cover its workers or extend them other crucial protections, and the major gig-economy companies (we’ll call them Big Gig) fight every effort to require it. This opposition left millions of workers without a safety net when the bottom fell out of our economy.

It’s time to update state law to require Big Gig platforms for driving, delivery, and other app-based services to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, sick time, minimum wage, and paid leave, just like any other business in Massachusetts – regardless of how they classify their workers.... Read more about Don’t let Big Gig game the system

Construction Workers and the Gig Economy

Construction Workers and the Gig Economy

April 14, 2020

by Mark Elich
Dissent Magazine

The problem of independent contracting as a business model is more important than ever. While the CARES Act fortunately included independent contractors as recipients of unemployment benefits, food delivery and other gig workers still face unprecedented challenges in the absence of protections from unions or employment laws. There will be life after the pandemic and employers across all industries that suffered financial losses will be looking to cut costs. One of the obvious tactics may well be an uptick in the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Hopefully an alternate vision will emerge, one in which unprotected but indispensable workers will seek a voice through a fight against misclassification, and the growth of unions and other forms of organization.

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Coronavirus may bring a labor reckoning for Amazon

April 8, 2020

Maya Shwayder
Digital Trends

coronavirus pandemic bring about the labor reckoning that activists have been seeking?" data-reactid="33" type="text"> With pressure on mega-retailers like Amazon to deliver essential goods to people stuck at home — coupled with increased scrutiny over labor practices and a long-simmering labor movement that has been nipping at the heels of these huge suppliers — could this coronavirus pandemic bring about the labor reckoning that activists have been seeking?

“It should,” said Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “I certainly hope that one of the lessons we’ll learn from this horrible experience is how important so many low-wage workers are, and how precarious their positions are.”... Read more about Coronavirus may bring a labor reckoning for Amazon

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How Trump Could Dismantle Workers’ Rights with Another Four Years

April 8, 2020

by Rachel Cohen
Washington Monthly

From the perspective of the liberal policy establishment, Donald Trump has launched an aggressive and unprecedented assault on workers’ rights and the labor movement. From the perspective of the right, Trump has governed on labor almost exactly as any other Republican president might have.

If Trump’s first term was focused on making it tougher for workers to unionize, both conservatives and liberal policy wonks agree that a second term would likely mean more attention directed toward regulating gig workers. Generally, gig workers—like Uber drivers—aren’t afforded the protections of traditional employees, like minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, and the right to join a union. Increasingly, though, labor advocates are building a case that many of these workers have been shortchanged; they’re functionally employees and should be protected as such.... Read more about How Trump Could Dismantle Workers’ Rights with Another Four Years

How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

April 7, 2020

BY SHARON BLOCK AND TERRI GERSTEIN
The Hill

An unprecedented 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance across the country over the last two weeks with more likely to come. Many employers are responding to shutdown orders, lack of cash flow, and the crisis by laying people off. Leaders have enacted measures to encourage employers to avoid more layoffs, such as conditioning business loans on maintaining payroll and providing tax credits for payroll expenses.

Instead of laying off, for instance, half of the workforce, a company would decrease the hours of its employees by half. These workers would then be paid for 50 percent of their time and would receive unemployment compensation for the other 50 percent. More than two dozen states already have working sharing programs up and running, along the broad political spectrum, from California to Nebraska.

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With strikes and a ‘sick out,’ some grocery and delivery workers take defiant stance: One-time bonuses, temporary pay hikes aren’t enough

March 31, 2020

Melissa Repko and Annie Palmer
CNBC

In recent weeks, tensions are on the rise between grocery workers and their employers, spurring many to take public action. Employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods planned a “sick out” Tuesday, while some drivers who deliver Whole Foods groceries are calling for more protections. Thousands of people have signed an online petition circulated by Trader Joe’s employees. On Monday, some Instacart workers held a nationwide strike. And a major grocery union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is advocating for workers to have access to coronavirus testing and protective gear.

Grocers don’t have the depths of experience dealing with dangerous work, said Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Obama advisor.

“Whether the law requires it or not, this is just a moment that it’s incredibly important for employers to listen to their workers,” she said. “It’s very concerning that there are a lot of really life-and-death decisions being made and so few workers have the ability to be part of the decision that drives those answers.”... Read more about With strikes and a ‘sick out,’ some grocery and delivery workers take defiant stance: One-time bonuses, temporary pay hikes aren’t enough

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Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block: When Did Labor Law Stop Working?

March 30, 2020

Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block
Ask a Professor Podcast
Harvard Magazine 

WHY WOULD IT TAKE AN AMAZON WORKER, employed full time, more than a million years to earn what its CEO, Jeff Bezos now possesses? Why do the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than all African-American households combined? And how are these examples of extreme income inequality linked to the political disenfranchisement of the lower- and middle-income classes? The established “solutions” for restoring balance to economic and political power in the United States have...

Read more about Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block: When Did Labor Law Stop Working?
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Why American Workers Have Been Left Out of Our Life-and-Death Decision-Making

March 30, 2020

By Sharon Block
The American Prospect

For too many American workers, this crisis is happening to them, not with them. With only approximately 6 percent of the American private-sector workforce in unions, the vast majority of workers have no voice in the decisions that businesses are making in response to the pandemic.

Our laws fail to ensure that workers have an adequate voice in important decisions that affect their lives. The current crisis highlights the ways that our labor law leaves workers out of these critical conversations.... Read more about Why American Workers Have Been Left Out of Our Life-and-Death Decision-Making

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50 State Survey of Access to Unemployment Insurance during COVID-19

March 25, 2020

by 

In the wake of massive layoffs and an unprecedented rise in unemployment claims, a report released today by the People’s Parity Project, in conjunction with the Harvard Labor & Worklife Program, reveals that only a minority of states have embraced all available opportunities to expand unemployment insurance (UI) for workers affected by COVID-19.

After surveying 50 states and the District of Columbia, PPP also found that most states’ unemployment insurance websites are still providing incomplete or even misleading information about filing for UI during the ongoing public health crisis. Worse still, many states’ UI websites have crashed under the avalanche of new unemployment insurance applications.... Read more about 50 State Survey of Access to Unemployment Insurance during COVID-19

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How To File For Unemployment If You've Been Affected By Coronavirus Layoffs

March 23, 2020

Monica Torres
HuffPost

What every worker needs to know if they've lost a job because of COVID-19.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the nation, many Americans are losing their jobs as nonessential businesses grind to a halt. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers lost their jobs or had their hours cut as of March 14, according to one poll, and that number is expected to grow. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 3 million jobs will be lost by this summer.... Read more about How To File For Unemployment If You've Been Affected By Coronavirus Layoffs

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DO DEMOCRACY AND CAPITALISM REALLY NEED EACH OTHER?

March 11, 2020

By Laura Amico
Harvard Business Review

Isabelle Ferreras, Tenured fellow of the Belgian National Science Foundation, professor at the University of Louvain, and a senior research associate of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, answers, "Clearly not: Capitalism, as we can see across the globe, is compatible with all different kinds of political regimes: liberal democratic, communist, autocratic — and now illiberal democracies, too....We have a clear choice before us: either expand our democratic commitment to include corporations, through democratizing them internally (by including the representation of labor investors along the current representation of capital investors), or forfeit our democratic rights to those who own capital — a possibility looming on the horizon, particularly in the United States."... Read more about DO DEMOCRACY AND CAPITALISM REALLY NEED EACH OTHER?

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