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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
Interviewer: Robin Young Here &Now, National Public Radio
More than seven months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, large segments of the economy are reopening. That includes businesses, offices and restaurants, as well as entertainment and cultural institutions like museums and cinemas.
But what are the rights of the people who will be working there? Can they decide not to work if they feel unsafe? And what protections are employers required to provide?
Sharon Block is executive director of the Labor and...
Labor Day looked different this year. COVID-19 has changed how we work and, for some of us, where we work from. It has also highlighted the importance of workplace rights and the longstanding problem of childcare for working families.
Harvard Law Today recently corresponded with 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, about COVID-19’s continued impact on the workplace, worker’s rights to a safe and healthy work environment, and the importance of unions in the time of social distancing and telework. The Labor and Worklife Program has addressed many of these issues and offered recommendations for empowering workers in two recent reports—Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy and Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response.
When the Milwaukee Bucks announced Wednesday that they would not be playing their NBA playoff game due to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the media couldn’t agree on what to call this extraordinary thing that was unfolding. Were the players mounting a protest? Were they initiating a boycott? Or were they carrying out a strike or work stoppage?
Sharon Block, director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said the situation brought to mind the walkout led by employees of Wayfair, the online home furnishings retailer, because the company was supplying beds to U.S. detention centers for migrant children. The dispute was about social injustice ― not working conditions ― and the workers were asking the broader community to stand by them in condemning it.
“Whatever the label is, this is about solidarity,” Block said of the athletes’ move. “It’s not just to advance their own interest, but to lead on a bigger public policy issue. ... They’re asking the public to join them in saying there’s something more important going on than sports.”
Workers have a key role to play in designing and implementing new, on-the-job health practices—and even more so in the absence of enforceable federal standards. If they aren’t able to speak up when they spot a problem, we risk prolonging this crisis, deepening the economic pain, and ultimately losing more lives.
MIT research has shown that companies with empowered frontline staff who have trusting, collaborative relationships with management are better at quickly identifying challenges and developing and implementing new solutions. This makes intuitive sense—workers know better than anyone how to do their jobs best, what risks they face, and how to solve problems in the workplace.
A government watchdog said in a report out Tuesday that the Labor Department “significantly broadened” an exemption allowing millions of health-care workers to be denied paid sick leave as part of the law Congress passed in March to help workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
But an Office of the Inspector General report noted that a move by the Labor Department to more broadly expand how they categorize health-care providers ended up leaving far more workers without a guarantee of paid sick leave than the agency’s estimate of 9 million.
Actions taken to enforce the sick-leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act have skewed even further away from investigations: 85 percent have been resolved through conciliations.
“These numbers just look so different than the numbers that I’m used to seeing in terms of conciliations versus investigations,” said Sharon Block, a senior Obama administration labor department official. “It really does jump out. That 85 percent is just a really big number.”
Only 47 percent of employees said improved safety measures would make them feel comfortable returning to the office, according to a recent survey.
“OSHA is supposed to protect workers. All they’ve done is issue suggestions and voluntary guidance,” to employers,” said Sharon Block, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and current executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.
OSHA has “turned everything over to employers to inspect themselves,” Block said. “If workers can’t rely on the federal government to stand up for them, they have to stand up for themselves.” Some workers have been fired for speaking up about conditions, she said.
OSHA didn’t respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Block recommended that concerned employees should document conditions at work and, if they feel unsafe, workers can consider leaving and filing for unemployment, using the unsafe conditions as justification.
Panel participant Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, added that “every workplace [should] have a safety monitor who can provide information and confidential advice to workers about their right to a safe workplace.”
“There are no OSHA regulations specific to coronavirus transmission,” Ms. Block says. “In the past,” she said, OSHA has “looked at CDC guidance and said to employers, this is the best thing that we know … in short order about how to protect workers. So we're going to enforce CDC guidance.”