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Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

April 29, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department weighed in Monday on a question whose answer could be worth billions of dollars to gig-economy companies, deciding that one company’s workers were contractors, not employees.

Sharon Block, a top official in the Obama Labor Department who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said it was hard to tell from the facts in the Labor Department’s letter whether the workers using the platform in question were truly independent contractors. But she said there seemed to be a stronger case to make for contractor status in that case than for Uber.

“This as a strategy makes sense,” Ms. Block said. “They set the standard in a way that makes it really clear this company gets past it, and in a way that’s going to help them in the harder cases.”

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The Last Kennedy

April 21, 2019

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 
The Atlantic

He’s the last Kennedy left in politics. He’s young, has a national profile, and has come at economics and other issues more thoughtfully and more forcefully than most of the people who are running for president.

He was already at work on a speech he was writing on his big idea: moral capitalism. A few months earlier, in late 2017, Kennedy had emailed Sharon Block, the director of the school’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Ted Kennedy aide, asking for help in developing his concept, which he was viewing as a kind of working political philosophy. He’d come by her office early in the new year and they talked for hours, back and forth, about books to read. They kept the conversation going via email as Kennedy and his staff kept building up ideas.

Labor and Worklife Program postdoctoral fellow Phillippe Scrimger wins LERA’s Best Dissertation Award

April 18, 2019

Labor and Worklife Program postdoctoral fellow Phillippe Scrimger’s Ph.D dissertation “The Distributive Effects of Trade Unionism: A Look at Income Inequality and Redistribution in Canada’s Provinces” has been named the winner of the Labor and Employment Relations Association’s 2019 Thomas A. Kochan and Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Awards Competition. The Award will be formally presented at the LERA 71st Annual Meeting, June 13-16, 2019 in Cleveland, OH.

Phillippe’s dissertation was completed under adviser Gregor Murray at the University of Montreal’s School...

Read more about Labor and Worklife Program postdoctoral fellow Phillippe Scrimger wins LERA’s Best Dissertation Award
U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

April 1, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department released a proposal on Monday that would limit claims against big companies for employment-law violations by franchisees or contractors.

 

Under the doctrine set by the board during the Obama administration, a company is considered a joint employer if it exercises direct or indirect control over workers hired by a franchisee or contractor.

But the board, now with a Republican majority, is considering ...

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Sanders campaign unionization raises questions about strikes and conflicts of interest

March 21, 2019

by Sean Higgins
Washington Examiner

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 are organizing the campaign workers for Sen. Bernie Sanders', I-Vt., presidential campaign, but they are not endorsing his bid.

Wilma Liebman, former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board, said that just because organizing a campaign staff is novel, there’s no reason why it cannot be done.

“Collective bargaining can be very flexible and adapted to the parties’ needs,” said Liebman, now senior research associate at Harvard Law School’s labor and worklife program. "Some contracts are lengthy, spelling out detailed rules and procedures. Some are just a few pages long, setting out just basic values and principles."... Read more about Sanders campaign unionization raises questions about strikes and conflicts of interest

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO OVERTIME?

March 12, 2019

with Nick Hanauer
Pitchfork Economics 

The overtime threshold used to be the minimum wage for the middle class—but where did it go? Labor experts Sharon Block and Chris Lu join Nick and Jasmin to explain why the overtime threshold, which used to cover 65 percent of workers, today covers only 7 percent. That’s craziness! And surprise, surprise—employers love to claim that forcing you to work for free is in your own best interest. But are they telling the truth? (46 minute audio interview)

Labor’s Hard Choice in Amazon Age: Play Along or Get Tough

Labor’s Hard Choice in Amazon Age: Play Along or Get Tough

February 22, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
New York Times

It’s one of the most vexing challenges facing the labor movement: how to wield influence in an era increasingly dominated by technology giants that are often resistant to unions.

Are workers best served when unions take an adversarial stance toward such companies? Or should labor groups seek cooperation with employers, even if the resulting deals do little to advance labor’s broader goals?

In 2016, Uber reached a five-year agreement with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to create a drivers’ guild, which would advocate on behalf of drivers but not challenge their status as independent contractors. But Sharon Block, a senior Labor Department official under President Barack Obama, pointed out that the guild had taken something of a hybrid approach between cooperation and antagonism, lobbying for policies such as a minimum earnings standard for drivers and allowing passengers to tip, both of which have been enacted in New York.

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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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A Call for a Kinder Capitalism

February 5, 2019

Brett Milano
Harvard Correspondent
Harvard Gazette

Speaking at Harvard Law School, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D., Mass.) called Monday for a new national economic agenda based on “moral capitalism” that addresses the needs of embattled workers.

In recent months, Kennedy has been pushing for a fresh economic sensibility. Speaking at the John T. Dunlop Forum on the topic of “Building a Moral Capitalism,” he argued that the recent federal government shutdown represented capitalism at its least moral.

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Joe Kennedy preaches ‘moral capitalism’ at Harvard Law

February 5, 2019

By Jon Chesto
Boston Globe

 

Joe Kennedy started his push for “moral capitalism” by urging local business leaders to help address the country’s worsening income inequality.

Now, the congressman is spelling out his ideas for how the federal government should tackle the problem.

The Massachusetts Democrat spoke to a packed room at Harvard Law School on Monday, making his plea for a government unafraid to set new rules for a fair and just economy. Strong regulations, he argues, shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to growth but as a necessary condition for a functioning capitalist system to survive. From his point of view, government has been complicit in the erosion of workers’ rights.... Read more about Joe Kennedy preaches ‘moral capitalism’ at Harvard Law