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.
“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.”
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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...
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?