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Labor of Law: Driving Labor Law Into the Gig Economy

January 29, 2018

By Erin Mulvaney

How Does the Gig Economy Fit into Labor Law? 
New technology. Old questions. That’s the perspective of former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin Jr., who was among the panelists this week at a forum on labor law. Griffin, now counsel to Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington, says there’s nothing new in one of the central questions of the gig economy: Are workers employees or independent contractors? Some of the first major labor cases before the Supreme Court focused on that issue—such as whether newspaper delivery people were considered contractors or employees.

Sharon Block, a former NLRB member and now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, had this to say: “I think there is a tendency to get distracted by the bright, shiny object of technology. To assume that because technology is involved doesn’t mean that standards don’t apply. The standards of the relationship isn’t changed.”... Read more about Labor of Law: Driving Labor Law Into the Gig Economy

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Leading Questions podcast – new episode with Professor Benjamin Sachs, on labor law being everywhere

January 24, 2018

Posted by Evelyn Douek
in Podcast , The Harvard Law Record

Evelyn and Hannah sit down with Professor Benjamin Sachs, the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School, to learn about how labor and employment law is everywhere in your lives and the news, even if you don’t always see it, get some great movie recommendations and an interesting productivity tip.

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The #MeToo Implications of the Supreme Court's Workplace Class-Action Case

January 24, 2018

By Erin Mulvaney 
The National Law Journal

The outcome of the major U.S. Supreme Court case over whether companies can ban class actions in employment agreements holds new importance as women join together to speak out against sexual misconduct in the workplace, former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin said Wednesday.

Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, said forcing workers to bring claims as individuals could have the effect of taking away the rights outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects concerted speech.

“It can eliminate protections for workers who need that protection the most,” Block said. “I think this is a tremendously important case. The consequences of it, if it comes out the wrong way, could be significant.”

These issues were discusses at LWP... Read more about The #MeToo Implications of the Supreme Court's Workplace Class-Action Case

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Worker Centers Seen As Likely Targets For Trump Regulators

January 23, 2018

By Braden Campbell
Law 360

Business advocates who have been pressing the federal government for years to increase its regulation of worker centers like Fight for $15 are more hopeful than ever that they'll get their way after a string of reversals of Obama-era National Labor Relations Board precedent.

"There's been a continuity to this issue across different administrations,” said Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program Executive Director Sharon Block, who was a DOL policy official in the Obama administration. "[Acosta] injected this uncertainty into what I think had no uncertainty."

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Trump NLRB Appointee Finds a Way Around Conflict of Interest Rules

January 23, 2018

by Ian MacDougall      

Also reported in:  Rock River Times logo

William Emanuel has recused himself from ruling on disputes involving his former law firm’s clients — but then used unrelated cases as vehicles to help Republican colleagues accomplish the same thing.

Former Obama NLRB member Sharon Block agreed. “Deciding a case in a way the parties didn’t ask you to decide it seems to me inevitably to raise the question: Why are you doing this?” said Block, who now heads the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Emanuel having clients that actually had made that request — at the very least that creates a huge appearance problem.”

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The Trump administration is trying to pass a rule that would allow employers to take billions from their employees' earned tips

January 22, 2018

by Eliza Relman 
Business Insider

The Department of Labor has proposed a new regulation that would allow businesses to collect tips earned by their employees and either redistribute them to non-tipped workers or keep them as part of their own profits. 

Critics say that there is nothing in the regulation that would stop business owners from simply seizing their employees' tips and using the extra income to line their own pockets or make capital investments — a practice they call "tip stealing," or wage theft.

Women and people of color are both more likely to be tipped employees and to earn lower wages than white men, so critics say the law would have a disproportionate adverse impact on both, and particularly women. 

"What is at stake is the ability of women to support themselves and their families," Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School and a former DOL official under the Obama administration, told Business Insider. "People often overlook that minimum wage workers are disproportionately women."

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January 21, 2018

by Rachel M. Cohen
The Intercept

THE AMERICAN LABOR movement, over the past four decades, has had two golden opportunities to shift the balance of power between workers and bosses — first in 1978, with unified Democratic control of Washington, and again in 2009. Both times, the unions came close and fell short, leading, in no small part, to the precarious situation labor finds itself in today.

[Sharon] Block, the former lawyer to Kennedy in the Senate [current Executive Director, LPW], doesn’t think Obama’s lackluster advocacy really made much of a difference. In fact, she said, some version of EFCA probably would have gotten through, but the final blow came when Senate Democrats lost 60 votes following Kennedy’s death. When the Massachusetts Democrat died of brain cancer in August 2009, he was succeeded by Republican Sen. Scott Brown, and the filibuster majority was no more, and EFCA never came up for a vote again. 

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Uncertainty Permeates Labor & Employment Landscape, According To Bloomberg Law's 2018 Outlook

January 18, 2018

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Bloomberg Law today issued its 2018 Labor & Employment Outlook, which explores the issues and policies that could impact workplaces nationwide this year.  These topics will dominate the agenda at the Department of Labor, federal regulatory agencies, the Supreme Court, and within Congress.  

A Webinar focusing on hot topics in labor and employment and the future of work is being held on Wednesday, January 24 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Attendees will gain insights into the administration's policies regarding key labor and employment issues, possible changes to the way courts and regulators considers joint employment, and potential judicial, legislative, and regulatory responses to changes in the way people work brought on by the gig economy.

Sharon Block, of the LWP was a member of panel. 

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36 prominent economists, including 3 Nobel laureates, explain to the Supreme Court why the anti-union position in Janus is simply wrong as a matter of basic economics

January 18, 2018

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Press Release

Thirty-six distinguished economists and professors of law and economics including three Nobel laureates, two recipients of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, and two past presidents of the American Economic Association filed an amici curiae brief to assist the Supreme Court in understanding the free-rider problem at issue in Janus v. AFSCME.

Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University, and is currently serving as Faculty co-Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School, was on of the 36 signers. 

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Walking the Floor of the Great Minnesota Activist Factory

January 17, 2018

by Hamilton Nolan

In November, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta said ominously that he was “looking at” the possibility of imposing new regulations on worker centers that could hobble their ability to get funding and operate freely. This would be the regulatory equivalent of a sniper taking pot shots at the medic who has rushed onto the battlefield to tend to a dying soldier. It is a remarkably bold threat. To see what is at stake, I traveled to frozen Minneapolis, home to one of the most effective worker centers anywhere in America.

[Sharon Block, who served as a Labor Department official in the Obama administration and is now the director Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program] points out that the George W. Bush administration already scrutinized worker centers on the same basis—and the Bush Labor Department sided with the worker centers, twice. “Who am I to argue with the Bush administration?” she laughs.