Faculty Co-Director, Labor and Worklife Program Professor, Economics, Harvard University
Richard B. Freeman holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University. He is currently serving as Faculty co-Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School, and is Co-Director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities.
Faculty Co-Director, Labor and Worklife Program Professor, Harvard Law School
Benjamin Sachs is the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School and a leading expert in the field of labor law and labor relations. Professor Sachs teaches courses in labor law, employment law, and law and social change, and his writing focuses on union organizing and unions in American politics.
Block and Sachs point to flaws in the social safety net, an indifferent OSHA, and a system that favors employers over employees.
As the economy reopens after the COVID-19 shutdowns, businesses are taking a varied, often patchwork approach to ensuring health and safety for their workers, and much uncertainty persists regarding employers’ obligations and employees’ rights. The Gazette spoke with labor law experts Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program, and Benjamin Sachs, the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School (HLS), about how the pandemic has turned a spotlight on the lack of clear workplace protections in general, and in particular for women and people of color, who were disproportionately represented among those deemed essential. Block and Sachs recently co-authored a report urging that U.S. labor law be rebuilt from the ground up. On June 24, they will release the report “Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response.”
Decades of economic trends and legal shifts have tilted the balance of power in the employer-employee relationship toward corporations and away from workers. This means that, months into the pandemic, millions of low-wage workers are still facing an impossible choice: their lives or their livelihood.
“Economic issues are life-and-death issues,” says Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “What COVID has done is illustrate the life-or-death nature of those economic issues in a very accelerated time frame.”
Clean Slate for Worker Power, an advocacy group led by Block and Benjamin Sachs of Harvard Law School, is pushing for new rules to require open businesses to have a worker-elected “safety steward,” who would make sure a given workplace is complying with local and federal laws. They also propose that the government set up commissions to negotiate workplace-safety standards, business sector by business sector rather than one burger joint or nursing home at a time, and to help workers organize online.
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
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.”
Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block Ask a Professor Podcast Harvard Magazine
WHY WOULD IT TAKE AN AMAZON WORKER, employed full time, more than a million years to earn what its CEO, Jeff Bezos now possesses? Why do the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than all African-American households combined? And how are these examples of extreme income inequality linked to the political disenfranchisement of the lower- and middle-income classes? The established “solutions” for restoring balance to economic and political power in the United States have...
Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program released a set of sweeping recommendations to fundamentally rewrite U.S. labor laws and help shift the balance of power in this country back into the hands of working people.Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program, and ...
by Sharon Block, Benjamin Sachs and Laura Weinrib OnLabor Blog
According to the Crimson, Harvard has circulated an email advising departments seeking to hire spring teaching fellows (and other student workers) to include certain language in job postings and offer letters. The Crimson reports that the email “recommends departments include a provision in postings and offer letters that conditions teaching fellow positions on whether candidates can commit to a start...
Perhaps the most ambitious proposal is an idea known as sectoral bargaining, in which workers would bargain with employers on an industrywide basis rather than employer by employer. Sectoral bargaining, which is common in Europe, would make it possible to increase wages and benefits for millions of workers in relatively short order, even for those who aren’t union members. It would also give employers an incentive to create better-paying jobs because doing so would no longer bestow a major cost advantage on competitors.
While Uber faces legal battles over whether its drivers should be classified as employees or contractors, the tech company unveiled an unexpected new service on Wednesday: Uber Works.
An extension of the gig economy model that Uber arguably popularized with its original ride-hailing service, Uber Works will be an app that matches temporary workers with potential jobs and employers. The move seems provocative for Uber, which is currently pushing back against a pending California law that could reclassify on-demand workers like Uber's drivers as employees.
Despite Uber's new take on temporary employment, Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, says it's more of the same.
When I started reporting on gig workers in 2014, I was surprised to find some of the people who represented labor organizations would respond to my inquiries with mild irritation. But is this really a harmful distraction from the wider workforce? In my book, Gigged, I argued that the gig economy was like a Trojan horse — that problems faced by Uber and Lyft drivers are shared by other types of workers, and that...