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Opinion: Why Coloradans should be skeptical about gig companies’ promises

January 21, 2021

By Terri Gerstein
The Colorado Sun

In December, Uber’s CEO asked the governors of all 50 states to give the ride-hailing company’s workers priority for the coronavirus vaccine. The company sent a similar letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It’s a profoundly cynical move. Uber and friends just spent over $200 million on California’s Proposition 22, a successful ballot initiative to exempt themselves from basic employment laws (paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, workplace safety requirements), in exchange for a seriously slender benefits package. 

Uber’s advocacy for vaccine priority reads more than anything like a company seeking replacement parts for its machinery, not caring for its people.... Read more about Opinion: Why Coloradans should be skeptical about gig companies’ promises

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Gig workers deserve employment protections

December 18, 2020

Mark Erlich
Boston Globe 

The misclassification of employees as independent contractors predates the emergence of the gig economy and has been a method of skirting the cost of standard worker protections.

In the midst of all the presidential transition drama, one of the most overlooked but consequential outcomes of the November election was the victory of Proposition 22 in California. Funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates to the tune of a record-breaking $200 million, the ballot measure exempted ride-hailing and delivery drivers from a 2019 law, Assembly Bill 5, which brings California’s gig economy into compliance with conventional employment laws.

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Preparing U.S. workers for the post-COVID economy: Higher education, workforce training and labor unions

December 16, 2020

Kristen E. Broady, Moriah Macklin, and Jimmy O’Donnell
Brookings Institute Report

The pandemic has exacerbated the need for improvements in how we train and protect our workforce.

For policymakers working to reverse the direction of labor law in this country, there are two paths available. The first, acknowledging the original sins and subsequent weakening of labor, involves a fundamental rethinking of labor-management relations in the United States. This approach is embodied by the innovative work being done by the Clean Slate for Worker Power Project, a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program headed by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs. The project puts forward a plan for rewriting the rules that underpin labor law. For example, they suggest moving away from fundamental system establishment-level bargaining and instead moving toward a sectoral bargaining system, as already exists in Europe.

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Biden Seen Reining In Mergers and Cracking Down on Big Tech

November 11, 2020

David McLaughlin
Bloomberg News

The new consensus in the antitrust establishment that a tougher approach is needed sets the stage for Biden to take a harder line than Obama did, said Michael Kades, the director of markets and competition policy at the left-leaning Washington Center for Equitable Growth and a former lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission.

“The question isn’t whether a Biden administration will be more aggressive, but how much more aggressive,” said Kades.

Biden economic adviser Ben Harris also has an interest in antitrust and how it can help workers. He is writing a book with Harvard Law School’s Sharon Block titled “Inequality and the Labor Market: the Case for Greater Competition.” It will propose reforms to labor and antitrust laws with the goal of pushing wages higher, making workplaces safer and increasing mobility.... Read more about Biden Seen Reining In Mergers and Cracking Down on Big Tech

CNN Business Perspectives logo

Prop 22 passes in California, exempting Uber and Lyft from classifying drivers as employees

November 4, 2020

Sara Ashley O'Brien 
CNN Business

In a major win for gig economy companies, CNN projects California voters have passed a costly and controversial ballot measure to exempt firms like Uber and Lyft from having to classify their gig workers in the state as employees rather than as independent contractors.

Terri Gerstein of the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program and Economic Policy Institute said in an email to CNN Business that the result will "leave thousands of California workers in a precarious and perilous position, without basic rights...

Read more about Prop 22 passes in California, exempting Uber and Lyft from classifying drivers as employees
Pittsburgh Post Gazette Logo

Uber won its prized contractor status for drivers. Now what?

November 5, 2020

Joel Rosenblatt, Robert Wilkens-Iafolla and Erin Mulvane
Bloomberg

Uber and Lyft on Tuesday fended off labor protections that were decades in the making, allowing the companies to keep compensating their drivers as independent contractors. While Proposition 22 requires these app-based transportation services to offer some modest new perks for drivers, it keeps them from having to provide benefits that full-time employees get. 

“Prop 22 creates these rights, but as slender and grossly insufficient as they may be, there’s real questions whether workers can access them,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.... Read more about Uber won its prized contractor status for drivers. Now what?

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Inside Scalia’s Pro-Industry Revamp of Labor Agency Enforcement

November 2, 2020

Ben Penn
Bloomberg News

Scalia’s primary objective as U.S. Labor Secretary has been to solidify an enforcement philosophy at DOL that’s predictable for employers. Businesses had railed against the Obama administration for what they viewed as its overly punitive, “gotcha"-style tactics. Their frustration mounted when President Donald Trump‘s first labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was slow to rebalance the enforcement landscape.

Opponents say Scalia has failed to leverage the department’s enforcement functions to defend workers at a time when their lives and...

Read more about Inside Scalia’s Pro-Industry Revamp of Labor Agency Enforcement
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Uber, Lyft Shares Jump as Companies Win Vote Over Drivers

November 4, 2020

Lizette Chapman
Bloomberg News

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. jumped in U.S. premarket trading Wednesday after California voters approved a measure (Proposition 22) to protect the companies’ business models from efforts to reclassify their drivers in the state as employees.

“This could be seen as a shot across the bow,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Everybody’s looking at California.”Under the new law, gig companies have agreed to provide some new protections to California workers, including a guaranteed wage for time spent driving and a health insurance stipend, but does not include paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and other standard protections afforded under California labor laws.... Read more about Uber, Lyft Shares Jump as Companies Win Vote Over Drivers

CNN Business Perspectives logo

Gig companies want to change the rules about who qualifies as an employee. Here's why they're wrong

October 15, 2020

Opinion by Terri Gerstein
for CNN Business Perspectives

Gig companies are urging Congress and state lawmakers to create a new category of worker, without the full protections that employees receive. But like all other businesses, gig companies should be required to treat their workers as employees, not as independent contractors or any other designation.

Policy decisions should not be made on the basis of a few large companies' self-interest. Rather, we should act based on what's best for society, which includes ensuring decent, dignified treatment for the people whose work makes our country run. That necessarily involves placing some obligations on companies.

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McDonald’s Legal Boss Jerry Krulewitch Retires

October 15, 2020

Ruiqi Chen
Bloomberg Law

McDonald’s in recent years has become one of the highest profile corporations battling over the question of joint employment, or whether a franchise company is legally responsible as an employer of workers at restaurants owned by franchisees.

“The whole concept of trying to impute a perceived wrong on the part of a franchise to the main entity, or vice versa, is really problematic,” said Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris in the employment, labor, benefits and immigration practice group. He said that efforts to classify McDonald’s as a joint employer eliminated the nature of a franchise system, which gives franchisees day-to-day control of operations.

“To me, it’s clear that in many instances, they should be found a joint employer,” Gerstein said. “But certain courts have allowed the franchise model to be a way for companies to evade the responsibility for ensuring a franchisee complies with the law.”... Read more about McDonald’s Legal Boss Jerry Krulewitch Retires

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It’s Women’s Work

October 15, 2020

By Sharon Block
Moyers on Democracy

The September unemployment numbers provided a lot of bad news for the economy overall: decreasing rate of new jobs being created, rising number of permanent layoffs and a persistently high unemployment rate. The most shocking number from September’s report, however, was the number of women who left the labor market. More than 800,000 women have given up trying to find a job. During the pandemic recession, women’s labor force participation – the percentage of women holding jobs or looking for jobs – is lower than at any point since the late 1980’s. That marks a generation of progress lost in just six months.... Read more about It’s Women’s Work

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Labor Law Must Include All Workers

September 22, 2020

Sharon Block & Benjamin Sachs
American Compass

Inclusion is a necessary first step toward fixing America’s broken labor law system.

In January of this year, we published a comprehensive set of recommendations for reforming U.S. labor law. Although the recommendations were extensive, the theory that lay behind them was straightforward: our country is facing dual crises of political and economic inequality, and we can help address those crises by giving working people greater collective power in the economy and in politics. Although progressives and conservatives disagree on many things, we all ought to agree that the stark inequalities that now pervade American life constitute grave threats. Politically, the viability of our democracy is threatened by a government that responds to the views of the wealthy but not to those of the poor and middle class. Economically, the viability of our community life is threatened by the fact that that we live in a country where it would take an Amazon worker 3.8 million years, working full time, to earn what Jeff Bezos alone now possesses.

... Read more about Labor Law Must Include All Workers

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Like many US workers, Trump staff has little recourse if asked to work alongside sick colleagues

October 7, 2020

Matthew Rozsa
Salon

What do workers do when the person responsible for enforcing worker safety laws turns a blind eye to his own staff?

The case of meatpacking employees may end up being comparable to the situation in the White House. Sharon Block, the Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, explained that workers at meatpacking plants "were told to continue to show up for work even as their coworkers were testing positive in high numbers and even dying." "As different as these workplaces may seem, the dynamic is similar — especially for the non-partisan staff in the White House, many of whom are people of color who are not highly paid. Because of the failures of the Trump Administration and their political objectives, workers' health and lives are needlessly being put at risk."... Read more about Like many US workers, Trump staff has little recourse if asked to work alongside sick colleagues

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What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

September 22, 2020

By Hamilton Nolan
In These Times
Unions hope a Biden presidency will reverse decades of anti-worker policies.

Amer­i­ca is in cri­sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme­di­ate crises — the pan­dem­ic and the unem­ploy­ment and the eco­nom­ic col­lapse and the death spi­ral of var­i­ous pub­lic insti­tu­tions — have lent the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion an air of emer­gency. For work­ing peo­ple in Amer­i­ca, though, the emer­gency is noth­ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec­tion is every­thing. 

“It’s critical that in the new administration, labor doesn’t just get siloed: ‘What’s the thing we can do to make the unions happy?’ It’s got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.” —Sharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration.
... Read more about What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

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Trump’s National Labor Relations Board Is Sabotaging Its Own Mission

September 7, 2020

By Michelle Chen
The Nation

The shortcomings of the NLRB are to some degree baked into its structure. The act, a compromise between labor and management, forced companies to bargain with unions, but it also excluded whole categories of workers, such as farm laborers, and effectively limited collective bargaining to individual companies, not whole industries or sectors.

Sharon Block, the director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and an NLRB member under Obama, said that during the pandemic, it was “incumbent on worker protection agencies like the [NLRB]…to be exceptionally vigilant on behalf of workers and attuned to violations of their rights, because it is so hard to feel secure enough to speak out. [But] this is a board that we watched operate for three years in a way that would not give that kind of security to workers.”

Nonetheless, she added, the systemic problems with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act go beyond the Trump administration. “Even with board members…and a general counsel with the best of intentions who really believe in the spirit and the purpose of the act, it’s just a tool that doesn’t work anymore.”... Read more about Trump’s National Labor Relations Board Is Sabotaging Its Own Mission

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