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An ER Doctor Lost His Job After Criticizing His Hospital On COVID-19. Now He's Suing.

May 29, 2020

Will Stone
NPR

An emergency medicine physician from Washington state has filed a lawsuit to get his job back at a hospital. He was fired in late March after criticizing his hospital's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

OSHA has faced criticism during the pandemic for not being more responsive to worker concerns. That may drive health care workers to take other legal routes when facing retaliation, says Terri Gerstein, a labor attorney who directs the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program. Gerstein is also a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. "It's so important that employers understand that when people raise these kinds of safety concerns, it's not an adversarial thing," she says. "They are trying to make their workplace safer and stem the spread of this horrible disease."

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Labor Unions: How they have helped us and how to unionize your workplace

May 27, 2020

Dean Obeidallah
SiriusXM channel 127

Former Obama admin official and current Harvard Law Professor Sharon Block is on to talk labor unions: How they have helped us and how to unionize your workplace. Gene Sperling who served as Director of the National Economic Council for both Presidents Obama and Clinton is on to talk his new book, “Economic Dignity.” Finally, Princeton Professor and CNN contributor Julian Zelizer talks the 2020 race and more. 

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Employers Can Expect Leniency, Not Freedom From U.S. Regulators

May 22, 2020

John Lauinger and Karl Hardy 
Bloomberg Law

Employers can expect leniency from federal regulators as they ramp up operations after virus-induced shutdowns, as long as they are able to demonstrate substantial good-faith efforts to adhere to recent updates to agency rules and guidance.

A new executive order President Donald Trump signed this week was intended to boost economic recovery in part by instructing agencies to overlook certain regulatory violations if a business tries to follow federal best practices for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This section could give employers a significant upper hand in investigations. Certain aspects of it raise concerns for workers, said Terri Gerstein, director of the state and local enforcement project at Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program. She cited a principle calling for enforcement to be “free of unfair surprise.”

“In the workplace enforcement field, you have to do unannounced inspections and investigations,” said Gerstein, former labor bureau chief in the New York attorney general’s office. “If they’re announced, people get coached, evidence gets destroyed, places get cleaned up.”... Read more about Employers Can Expect Leniency, Not Freedom From U.S. Regulators

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One Way To Protect Workers In A Pandemic: Make It Harder To Fire Them

May 22, 2020

By Dave Jamieson
HuffPost

Unionized workers are far more likely to speak out about dangerous working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s no mystery as to why.

Workers who have weak job protections are fearful to speak up, lest they get punished or even fired. The vast majority of Americans work “at will” ― meaning their employers can get rid of them for almost any reason, as long as it isn’t discriminatory. 

And while workers have a nominal right to refuse dangerous work, the law is weak and puts the burden of proof on employees.

“Protection against unlawful firings is absolutely critical right now,” Gerstein said. “Workers need to be able to speak up without threat of losing their jobs. That’s important for worker safety and for public health.”... Read more about One Way To Protect Workers In A Pandemic: Make It Harder To Fire Them

Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

May 19, 2020
Michael Sainato
The Guardian

Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered protests across various industries

Food delivery workers have become essential in New York after the city closed restaurants and bars to the public on 16 March. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
Wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests over working conditions have erupted across the US throughout the coronavirus pandemic as “essential” workers have demanded better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders are hoping the protests can lead to permanent change.

Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said it was too early to tell if these worker actions around the US will have a lasting impact.

“These walkouts show that essential workers don’t want to be treated any more as if they were disposable. They are demanding a voice in how their companies respond to the pandemic. Having a voice is a life-and-death matter now more than ever,” said Block. “Success will be a matter of whether consumers and policymakers will be inspired by these workers’ courage.”

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How States and Localities Can Protect Workplace Safety and Health

May 15, 2020

Jane Flanagan, Terri Gerstein, Patricia Smith
Labor and Work LIfe Program and 
National Employment Law Project

As states consider how to protect public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, various questions have arisen about their ability to do so: Specifically, to what degree is state action in the health and safety arena preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and federal enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA)? How can states and cities take action to protect workers and members of the public without running into federal preemption issues? This paper provides a basic explanation of OSHA preemption and describes some potential sources of authority and avenues for action by states and localities wishing to protect working people in their jurisdictions.

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Press Release
News Articles: "We can only do so much’? Here’s what experts say Pa., Philly can do to protect workers during the coronavirus." by Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/16/20

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"Disposable workers" doing essential jobs

May 12, 2020

Erica Pandey
Axios

Millions of Americans are risking their lives to feed us and bring meals, toiletries and new clothes to our doorsteps — but their pay, benefits and working conditions do not reflect the dangers they face at work.

he coronavirus crisis is exposing the ugly ways in which low-wage workers are treated — by employers and customers alike. "But for the first time, the workplace conditions of low-wage workers are directly relevant to the whole country," says Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

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Few precedents for grim US jobless numbers

May 9, 2020

Brooke Fox in New York and Steven Bernard in London
Financial Times

Economists look back to the Great Depression for clues on the scale of the economic crisis.

Behind Friday’s grim unemployment rate of 14.7 per cent is an even crueler number: there were 42.9m people who were unemployed or underemployed in the US in April, versus 14.8m at the same time last year.

The lowest official observation for the statistic was 54.9 per cent in 1949, when women comprised less than a third of the labour force. The fact that they now make up half makes the drop even more shocking, said Richard Freeman, Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University.... Read more about Few precedents for grim US jobless numbers

The Technology 202: Coronavirus raises the stakes in new court fight for gig worker benefits

The Technology 202: Coronavirus raises the stakes in new court fight for gig worker benefits

May 6, 2020

By Cat Zakrzewski 
with Tonya Riley
Washington Post

The coronavirus pandemic is lending the battle over Uber and Lyft's classification of its drivers fresh urgency. 

“What it's done is laid bare more the consequences of allowing companies to opt out of the social safety net,” Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told me. “For a lot of workers, those consequences have been very apparent for a while. What's happening right now is the public is being forced to see this in a different way when there is such a groundswell of workers who are dealing with those consequences all at the same time.” 

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Trump’s Plan to Reopen U.S. Puts Labor’s Scalia in Limelight

May 6, 2020

Ben Penn
Bloomberg Law

Scalia’s Labor Department oversees many of the paid leave, workplace safety, and training programs the administration is likely to turn to as President Donald Trump shifts focus from combating the health-care crisis to restarting the nation’s economy. The former corporate litigator, who joined Trump at an event in Phoenix, has been working behind the scenes with governors, lawmakers, and private-sector representatives to coordinate pandemic relief.

That letter, which the DOL public affairs office promoted to the press, demonstrated the secretary’s commitment to defending the administration’s efforts from accusations of betraying workers, even as it reinforced dismay among critics about Scalia’s performance in the crisis. Scalia argued OSHA’s approach of periodically updating guidance for employers is a better way of responding to the contagion because scientific knowledge of Covid-19 continues to evolve.

“At almost every decision point he has opted against the position that would be the most protective and compassionate,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and a senior DOL official under President Barack Obama.