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State and local labor standards enforcement during COVID-19

April 28, 2020
By Terri Gerstein and Jane Flanagan
Economic Policy Institute 

The need to safeguard workers’ physical health and financial stability is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. State and local labor enforcement agencies are critical to such efforts, particularly given the federal administration’s abdication of leadership on worker-protection issues. Yet responding to the current crisis will require state and local labor agencies to quickly reorient to a new reality and repurpose their staff and routine functions in new and creative ways. As former state enforcers, we share the following ideas about how such agencies might utilize tested and effective strategic enforcement strategies and tools to respond to this moment.
Fired in a Pandemic ‘Because We Tried to Start a Union,’ Workers Say

Fired in a Pandemic ‘Because We Tried to Start a Union,’ Workers Say

April 28, 2020

By Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Rachel Abrams 
The New York Times

As American companies lay off millions of workers, some appear to be taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target workers who are in or hope to join unions, according to interviews with more than two dozen workers, labor activists and employment lawyers.

“This is a continuation of behavior that has become all too common, of employers being willing to use increasingly aggressive tactics to stop unionizing,” said Sharon Block, a former National Labor Relations Board member appointed by former President Barack Obama. “The pandemic has given them another tool in their toolbox.”

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Why Bolster the Regulatory Gatekeeper?

April 24, 2020

By Sharon Block
American Prospect
Response to OIRA 2.0: Using OIRA for Progressive Regulation by BY RAJESH D. NAYAK & TODD N. TUCKER in American Prospect 

In their paper, Todd Tucker and Rajesh Nayak make an important contribution to mapping out a role for OIRA that will enhance our ability to respond to the pandemic and resulting recession. Some in this series have referred to OIRA as a gatekeeper that erects obstacles to progressive regulation. Tucker and Nayak show that with critical reforms OIRA can be a force for making sure that the most progressive regulations get through the gate. In my opinion, the pandemic makes the reimagined role for OIRA described by Tucker and Nayak more important than ever.... Read more about Why Bolster the Regulatory Gatekeeper?

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OIRA 2.0: Using OIRA for Progressive Regulation

April 24, 2020

BY RAJESH D. NAYAK & TODD N. TUCKER
American Prospect

For decades, OIRA has been blamed for slowing or even stopping important rules that would better protect workers, consumers, borrowers, and anyone else in the crosshairs of big business. That’s why some progressives have proposed abolishing OIRA so that Cabinet agencies can be free to pursue regulations at will.

But when we look at OIRA, we see its potential. In our recent report, “OIRA 2.0: How Regulatory Review Can Help Respond to Existential Threats,” we propose using OIRA as a force to help address existential threats, not to mention modernizing its version of cost-benefit analysis to support progressive structural change and center equity.

Response: Why Bolster the Regulatory Gatekeeper? By Sharon Block in American Prospect
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New proposal to steer nation through COVID-19 crisis would give a voice to frontline workers

April 24, 2020

BY Rick Wartzman
Fast Company

Today, scholars from Harvard Law School’s Clean Slate for Worker Power project and the Roosevelt Institute unveil a plan that channels the indignation—and expertise—of those who are underpaid while taking on the risks during this perilous time.

“The medical folks need to take care of stopping the virus, but policymakers need to get the structural problems with the economy under control,” says Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program, which runs the Clean Slate project. “Maybe what we’re going through now will open up some imaginations.”

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Don’t let Big Gig game the system

April 18, 2020

SHARON BLOCK and  MIKE FIRESTONE
Commonwealth Magazine

IN ITS SWEEPING RESPONSE to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress threw a financial lifeline to millions of Americans and made so-called “gig economy” workers, like Uber drivers, eligible for unemployment assistance for the first time. But the economic crisis begs the question why Uber drivers weren’t eligible already.

The answer is simple. It’s because, unlike other Massachusetts businesses, Uber doesn’t pay unemployment insurance to cover its workers or extend them other crucial protections, and the major gig-economy companies (we’ll call them Big Gig) fight every effort to require it. This opposition left millions of workers without a safety net when the bottom fell out of our economy.

It’s time to update state law to require Big Gig platforms for driving, delivery, and other app-based services to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, sick time, minimum wage, and paid leave, just like any other business in Massachusetts – regardless of how they classify their workers.... Read more about Don’t let Big Gig game the system

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

April 17, 2020

By John Nichols
The Nation

Mid mounting frustration with the extent to which the president has been able to frame the discourse about Covid-19 and its consequences, some of the savviest thinkers about politics and governing have been asking, as Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout did recently, “Where is Congress during a deadly pandemic?” Her answer: “They should be in session every day. Remotely.”

So the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is stepping up to show how it can—and should—be done. Next Thursday, April 23, the CPC will convene the first in a series of remote congressional hearings to highlight bold and necessary proposals for responding to the pandemic and to the economic crisis that has developed as a result. 

Organized along the lines of a traditional House hearing, the “Preventing Layoffs” hearing will be chaired by Pocan and Jayapal and feature expert testimony from Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, and Amanda Ballantyne, the director of the Main Street Alliance, a group that advocates for small businesses.

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The Pandemic Response Measures State and Local Governments Should Move On Now

April 14, 2020

By Terri Gerstein and Naomi Walker
Route Fifty

COMMENTARY | State and local officials have initiated many measures to mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus. However, there is still much more for them to do.

The Trump administration has failed the American people to an astonishing extent during the current pandemic crisis. Failed to prepare, failed to take the threat seriously, failed to direct resources where they’re needed, and failed to tell the truth. While Congress has provided some aid to state and local governments in relief packages, given the enormous fiscal challenges already underway, it will not go nearly far enough to help offset the health and economic fallout of Covid-19.

The federal government is the only entity with the sufficient scale and resources to do what’s needed, and yet those efforts continue to be lackluster at best. Ultimately, Congress should pass a new aid package that provides states and localities with $500 billion—more than triple the amount already authorized.... Read more about The Pandemic Response Measures State and Local Governments Should Move On Now

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Foundations and Donors Step Up Grants to Help Workers Hurt by the Pandemic

April 14, 2020

By Alex Daniels
Chronicle of Philanthropy

In the coronavirus era, the heroes drive delivery trucks, bag groceries, and clean hospital floors. As those employees have stayed on the job, risking their lives to ensure others can stay comfortable in seclusion, a new movement is underway to help those workers.

Foundations that have long supported labor groups are stepping up their funding and recruiting others to join a movement that some experts think could lead to sweeping policy changes.

The Clean Slate for Worker Power at Harvard University Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, for instance, used grants from the Ford, Hewlett, Kellogg, and Public Welfare foundations to produce a 130-page set of policy recommendations that would help worker groups generate revenue, provide better or portable health coverage for workers, and require that 40 percent of corporate board seats are chosen by workers, among other things.

Sharon Block, the program’s executive director, says the project will continue to flesh out a labor agenda.

"We are not going to alleviate the pain that so many workers are in tomorrow," she says. "What we want to do is provide source material for groups that are trying to make systemic change. We want to provide some of the answers."... Read more about Foundations and Donors Step Up Grants to Help Workers Hurt by the Pandemic

Construction Workers and the Gig Economy

Construction Workers and the Gig Economy

April 14, 2020

by Mark Elich
Dissent Magazine

The problem of independent contracting as a business model is more important than ever. While the CARES Act fortunately included independent contractors as recipients of unemployment benefits, food delivery and other gig workers still face unprecedented challenges in the absence of protections from unions or employment laws. There will be life after the pandemic and employers across all industries that suffered financial losses will be looking to cut costs. One of the obvious tactics may well be an uptick in the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Hopefully an alternate vision will emerge, one in which unprotected but indispensable workers will seek a voice through a fight against misclassification, and the growth of unions and other forms of organization.