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NLRB Case Hinders Workers' Path To Justice

June 3, 2019

By Sharon Block
Law 360

Recently, 23 McDonald’s workers told the company that “Time’s Up” — they stood together and filed sexual harassment claims[3] with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and lawsuits against the company. Another group of workers filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,[4] asking the federal agency to hold McDonald’s accountable for failing to take reasonable steps to protect them from on-the-job violence. 

In a little-noticed National Labor Relations Board filing, the Trump administration recently has opened a new front in its war on American workers aimed squarely at efforts like those taken by these brave McDonald’s workers. The Trump-appointed general counsel of the NLRB is arguing[5] in a case on remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Tarlton and Son Inc., that workers have no protection under federal labor law if they are fired for filing a lawsuit or a claim with a federal agency to protect their rights. If successful, the general counsel’s position would mean that your employer can refuse to pay you and your coworkers the wages that you are owed and then fire you when you complain to the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit to get your money. 

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1 year after Janus, unions are flush

May 17, 2019

By REBECCA RAINEY and IAN KULLGREN
Politico

As Janus’ one-year anniversary approaches, a POLITICO review of 10 large public-employee unions indicates they lost a combined 309,612 fee payers in 2018. But paradoxically, all but one reported more money at the end of 2018. And collectively, the 10 unions reported a gain of 132,312members.

How did public employee unions end up with more money and in most cases with more members after a Supreme Court ruling that was expected to eviscerate both?

The answer appears to be preemptive organizing. “Unions were really prepared because, sadly, the outcome was really predictable,” Block said.... Read more about 1 year after Janus, unions are flush

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Unions are on frontlines of fight against inequality

April 29, 2019

By Katie Johnston
Globe Staff

Stop & Shop’s stores were ghost towns during the recent strike. With workers standing outside in picket lines, customers stayed away , leading to one of the most effective strikes in recent memory.

The grocery clerks and bakers and meat cutters holding signs were protesting proposed cuts to their benefits, but their plight also resonated with the public because they represented something bigger: working Americans across the country whose wages are barely budging while the cost of living skyrockets in such places as Boston and corporations rake in record profits.

“What we’re seeing is an increasing resistance to the fundamental unfairness of a system that’s so skewed both economically and politically to the wealthy,” said Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School labor professor, noting that when Uber goes public, former CEO Travis Kalanick’s stock is expected to be worth upward of $6 billion — an amount that would take a full-time Uber driver 150,000 years to make.... Read more about Unions are on frontlines of fight against inequality

Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

April 29, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department weighed in Monday on a question whose answer could be worth billions of dollars to gig-economy companies, deciding that one company’s workers were contractors, not employees.

Sharon Block, a top official in the Obama Labor Department who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said it was hard to tell from the facts in the Labor Department’s letter whether the workers using the platform in question were truly independent contractors. But she said there seemed to be a stronger case to make for contractor status in that case than for Uber.

“This as a strategy makes sense,” Ms. Block said. “They set the standard in a way that makes it really clear this company gets past it, and in a way that’s going to help them in the harder cases.”

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The Last Kennedy

April 21, 2019

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 
The Atlantic

He’s the last Kennedy left in politics. He’s young, has a national profile, and has come at economics and other issues more thoughtfully and more forcefully than most of the people who are running for president.

He was already at work on a speech he was writing on his big idea: moral capitalism. A few months earlier, in late 2017, Kennedy had emailed Sharon Block, the director of the school’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Ted Kennedy aide, asking for help in developing his concept, which he was viewing as a kind of working political philosophy. He’d come by her office early in the new year and they talked for hours, back and forth, about books to read. They kept the conversation going via email as Kennedy and his staff kept building up ideas.

U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

April 1, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department released a proposal on Monday that would limit claims against big companies for employment-law violations by franchisees or contractors.

Under the doctrine set by the board during the Obama administration, a company is considered a joint employer if it exercises direct or indirect control over workers hired by a franchisee or contractor.

But the board, now with a Republican majority, is considering a proposal to narrow the standard so that control would have to be “substantial, direct and immediate.”

“It has provided such an obvious road map for employers to evade liability,” said Sharon Block, a former top official in the Obama Labor Department who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “But that’s going to introduce tremendous uncertainty into the lives of American workers who are subject to these business models.”

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Sanders campaign unionization raises questions about strikes and conflicts of interest

March 21, 2019

by Sean Higgins
Washington Examiner

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 are organizing the campaign workers for Sen. Bernie Sanders', I-Vt., presidential campaign, but they are not endorsing his bid.

Wilma Liebman, former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board, said that just because organizing a campaign staff is novel, there’s no reason why it cannot be done.

“Collective bargaining can be very flexible and adapted to the parties’ needs,” said Liebman, now senior research associate at Harvard Law School’s labor and worklife program. "Some contracts are lengthy, spelling out detailed rules and procedures. Some are just a few pages long, setting out just basic values and principles."... Read more about Sanders campaign unionization raises questions about strikes and conflicts of interest

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Labor Department Leadership Vacancies Could Threaten Policy Work

January 7, 2019

by Jaclyn Diaz
Bloomberg

The Labor Department is starting 2019 without confirmed officials in several key leadership posts, vacancies the business community fears could derail some policy initiatives.

The department doesn’t have confirmed leaders for seven sub-agencies after the Jan. 4 departure of Bryan Jarrett, who was serving as acting administrator for the Wage and Hour Division.

“I can certainly say there was nothing like this during our time,” Sharon Block, a former DOL policy office head under President Barack Obama, told...

Read more about Labor Department Leadership Vacancies Could Threaten Policy Work
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Joint Employer Labor Regulation Clouded by Court Decision

January 5, 2019

Hassan A. Kanu and Jon Steingart
Bloomberg News

The NLRB acted properly in 2015 when it adopted a more expansive test for determining when companies in franchise, staffing, and other relationships should be considered joint employers for liability and collective bargaining purposes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held Dec. 28. The board broke new ground with that test by saying that a company that has the authority to exert control over another company’s workforce could be required to bargain with or be held liable for unfair labor practices against the workers, even if it doesn’t exercise that ability.

The NLRB’s test, crafted by a Democratic majority, has been the subject of heated debate in the business community, courts, and Congress, highlighted by litigation involving McDonald’s and allegations against Microsoft. The now Republican-majority board is working on a regulation that would limit joint employment and allow businesses more leeway to outsource labor and other components.... Read more about Joint Employer Labor Regulation Clouded by Court Decision

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Clean Slate Update

December 12, 2018

by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs
OnLabor.org

Last spring, we promised to share information about the project we’ve launched at Harvard Law School, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law Reform.”

On Labor Day,  we laid out our vision for this ambitious project:  (1) reimagining collective bargaining; (2) expanding the range of available worker organizations; (3) ensuring that collective action leverages power; (4) using benefits and enforcement to strengthen worker organizations; (5) updating other legal regimes to empower workers; and (6) addressing persistent, historical inequities that have plagued the labor movement.... Read more about Clean Slate Update

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More Employers Turn to Arbitration to Handle Job Claims

December 6, 2018

By Jaclyn Diaz
Bloomberg Law

 

Many major employers, including other tech companies that have done away with mandatory clauses on harassment, maintain arbitration agreements for most wage-and-hour and discrimination claims. The use of arbitration clauses to handle employment claims is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, sources told Bloomberg Law.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys and worker advocates are hoping employers will end the practice for all employment claims, saying it’s especially harmful for low-wage workers.

Arbitration clauses...

Read more about More Employers Turn to Arbitration to Handle Job Claims
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Tech companies like Google are giving workers the right to take sexual harassment claims to court — but employees are calling for more

November 19, 2018

Employees and labor activists say they want to see an end to forced arbitration in all cases — not just for sexual harassment — and for all workers.
By Shirin Ghaffary and Rani Molla 
Recode.net

 

Amid increasing public scrutiny, many major tech companies are reconsidering a practice that bars workers from taking their employer to court over workplace issues such as sexual harassment.

In the past two weeks alone, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, eBay and Square all announced they’d end forced arbitration for cases of sexual harassment. Forced arbitration is an agreement that requires employees to settle disputes in-house rather than in the courts,

The announcement is good news for tech employees because arbitration generally works in favor of employers and tends to involve lower payouts than traditional court cases.

 

“I’m glad sexual harassment is getting that visibility,” Terri Gerstein, director of the state and local enforcement project at Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program, told Recode. “I want other workplace abuses to get this visibility, too.”

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BuzzFeed Is Ending Forced Arbitration Policy For Sexual Harassment Claims Following Inquiries

November 20, 2018

Davey Alba
BuzzFeed News 

BuzzFeed will end its requirement of mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims — a policy that prevents workers from airing their grievances in open court — after BuzzFeed News raised questions about the company’s policy as part of a larger investigation into the practice in the tech industry.

Forced arbitration policies “can be both standard [in workplaces] and wrong at...

Read more about BuzzFeed Is Ending Forced Arbitration Policy For Sexual Harassment Claims Following Inquiries
End Forced Arbitration for Sexual Harassment. Then Do More.

End Forced Arbitration for Sexual Harassment. Then Do More.

November 14, 2018

By Terri Gerstein
NY Times Opinion

In the end, the most compelling reason for a company to foist arbitration on its work force is to avoid liability and public exposure that might result from a court case. But if a company wants to avoid liability, blocking workers from court isn’t the best way to do that. The answer is to create a fair and lawful workplace, the best possible workplace, for everyone who contributes to a company’s success and to give workers a voice. 

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