Block, Sharon

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The Resurrection of American Labor

February 7, 2019

by Jane Paskin
Bloomberg Businessweek

According to the official records, U.S. workers went on strike seven times during 2017. Aggrieved workers, however, took matters into their own hands, using social media and other tech tools to enhance their campaigns. From industry walkouts to wildcat teachers’ strikes, they made very public demands of their employers. The official number of major work stoppages recorded by the BLS in 2018 nearly tripled, to 20. 

“I think there’s a real desire for working people to not segment their lives so much,” says Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. Companies know that, too. That’s why places such as Comcast, Facebook, and Google gave workers time off to join political protests in 2016. The problem, Block says, is that political issues are often workplace issues, too. “Immigration, racial justice, gender equality—people are seeing these things as interconnected, and that’s giving rise to movements that aren’t so easy to characterize but are very powerful.”

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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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The Return of the Strike

January 3, 2019

By Steven Greenhouse
American Prospect

This year, thousands of teachers, hotel workers, Google employees, and others walked off the job and won major gains. Which raises two questions: Why now? And will this continue?

Some labor experts say the recent surge of strikes could portend a new wave of labor activism, as more and more workers see that collective action can pay off. Others argue that the recent surge is more likely a one-time blip of militancy that will fade away as organized labor’s long-term decline continues.

Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, says labor’s renewed militancy reflects a broader shift in the zeitgeist. “When there’s a lot of collective action happening more generally—the Women’s March, immigration advocates, gun rights—people are thinking more about acting collectively, which is something that people hadn’t been thinking about for a long time in this country in a significant way.”... Read more about The Return of the Strike

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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

Trump May Soon Deal Yet Another Blow to Union Rights

Trump May Soon Deal Yet Another Blow to Union Rights

November 9, 2018

By Michelle Chen
The Nation

"Rolling back so-called “joint-employer” protections could undermine the Fight for 15 and other vital campaigns."

At stake is the joint-employer standard, where workers are technically employed by a subcontractor, but their working conditions are essentially controlled by the parent company to which they are assigned (in many cases today, so-called “permatemps” do virtually the same job as regular workers, with less pay and job security).

The Trump administration’s Labor Department and the Republican-dominated NLRB...

Read more about Trump May Soon Deal Yet Another Blow to Union Rights
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The Kavanaugh Tilt: Conservative Justices Could Revamp Workplace Law

October 18, 2018

By Robert Iafolla
Bloomber Law

Epic Systems may have also laid some of the groundwork for the court’s new conservative majority to continue narrowing the scope of federal labor law, scholars said. The court said in that ruling that ling or joining a class action doesn’t qualify as a joint action protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

But the Trump administration led a brief in Epic Systems suggesting that the NLRA’s safeguards for collective worker action only covers group conduct related to self-organization or collective bargaining. “That to me is the most serious and real area to think about an even more conservative Supreme Court changing the law,” Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told Bloomberg Law. “In a world where 94 percent of the private sector isn’t engaged in activities related to collective bargaining, that would be a devastating development.”... Read more about The Kavanaugh Tilt: Conservative Justices Could Revamp Workplace Law

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State and Local Enforcement: Stepping Up and Filling In on Workers’ Rights

October 25, 2018

by Sharon Block
OnLabor.org

Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program has launched the Project on State and Local Enforcement. The Project will partner with enforcement agencies, lawmakers, worker advocates, and others to fill a critical need in examining and strengthening innovative state and local actions and initiatives.  Specifically, the project will:... Read more about State and Local Enforcement: Stepping Up and Filling In on Workers’ Rights

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'This Road Just Got a Lot Harder': Teachers' Unions Hit With New Round of Lawsuits

October 15, 2018

By Madeline Will
Education Week

Months after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a hefty blow to teachers’ unions, a rash of new lawsuits has emerged that could further damage these labor groups. 

There are two main strands to this new wave of anti-union lawsuits: 1) challenges to time-limited windows during which teachers can opt out of membership payroll deductions, and 2) pushes for teachers to be reimbursed for the agency fees they paid before the Janus decision.

“Everybody knows where the end of this litigation road is, which is the Supreme Court,” said Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Janus is sadly not the end of the road. This road just got a lot harder.”... Read more about 'This Road Just Got a Lot Harder': Teachers' Unions Hit With New Round of Lawsuits

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Under Trump, Labor Protections Stripped Away

September 3, 2018

By Katie Johnston
Boston Globe 

“This has been a terrible 18 months-plus for working people in this country,” said Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute. “It’s an unprecedented attack on workers.”

Several worker advocacy groups have seized the moment to propose major overhauls to labor law, including the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, which is exploring policy proposals to reimagine collective bargaining by sector instead of by employer, and to give workers seats on corporate boards, among other recommendations. 

It’s not just a reaction to Trump, said Sharon Block, who runs the center with labor professor Benjamin Sachs, though she added he’s certainly making matters worse. 9/3/2018 Under Trump, labor protections stripped away “The little power that workers have, this administration seems to be bound and determined to diminish even more,” said Block, who served on the NLRB board and was a labor adviser to President Obama. “The time for tinkering around the edges has past. What we really need is fundamental change.”

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This Labor Day, A Clean Slate for Reform

September 3, 2018

 SHARON BLOCK AND BENJAMIN SACHS
OnLabor.org

The question on this Labor Day therefore must be how, in 2018, can we create a new labor movement, one that can unite the interests of a sufficient number of lower and middle income Americans so that they have the power to restore balance to our economy and politics.

So we need to rebuild labor law from a clean slate to meet the challenges of the new economy. To provide a blueprint for that kind of reform, we have launched a new project at Harvard Law School: Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law.  This summer, we kicked off the Clean Slate project with a convening aimed at identifying the core elements of a successful 21st Century labor law.... Read more about This Labor Day, A Clean Slate for Reform

Trump’s Power to Fire Federal Workers Curtailed by Judge

Trump’s Power to Fire Federal Workers Curtailed by Judge

August 25, 2018

By Noam Scheiber
New York Times

A federal district judge in Washington struck down most of the key provisions of three executive orders that President Trump signed in late May that would have made it easier to fire federal employees.

The ruling is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the administration, which has suffered losses in court in its efforts to wield executive authority to press its agenda on immigration, voting and the environment.

Sharon Block of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who is a former senior Labor Department official and National Labor Relations Board member during the Obama administration, called the decision a “stinging rebuke.”... Read more about Trump’s Power to Fire Federal Workers Curtailed by Judge

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Trump Overtime Pay Rule Slow Out of Gate

August 20, 2018

Jaclyn Diaz and Ben Penn
Bloomberg Law

The Labor Department has shown scant signs of progress on revising an Obama-era rule to expand overtime pay eligibility, more than a year after embarking on its mission.

The Trump DOL’s latest soft target for a proposed rule is January 2019, after initially aiming for a fall 2018 release. A federal judge shot down the 2016 rule, which would have qualified an additional 4 million workers for time-and-a-half pay. An appeal of that decision is on hold to allow time for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to develop what’s expected to be a more narrow update.

“When you do it right, this kind of rulemaking is hard,” said Sharon Block, who coordinated the 2016 overtime rulemaking as head of the Obama DOL’s policy shop. “I don’t think this Department of Labor has shown themselves to be able to do this kind of complex difficult rulemaking. I have no idea if they have the capacity to do it in the time they have left.”... Read more about Trump Overtime Pay Rule Slow Out of Gate

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A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

August 1, 2018

Harvard Labor and Worklife conference starts up a journey toward systemic reform, economic equality

By BRETT MILANO
Harvard law Today

Last month, Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program began an ambitious effort to fix a broken system of labor laws. The program, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law,” began with a daylong seminar at Wasserstein Hall. It will continue with a series of followup meetings over the next eighteen months, with the goal of producing major recommendations to reform labor law.

Attendees came from across the country, including law professors, labor activists, and union and online organizers. Because Chatham House rules were invoked for the event, none of the panelists will be identified or quoted; Block explained that this allowed for a freer exchange of ideas.

Co-organizers Sharon Block, executive director of HLS’s Labor and Worklife Program, and Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry and faculty co-director of the Labor and Worklife Program, said that some significant work was begun.... Read more about A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

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