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Prop 22 passes in California, exempting Uber and Lyft from classifying drivers as employees

November 4, 2020

Sara Ashley O'Brien 
CNN Business

In a major win for gig economy companies, CNN projects California voters have passed a costly and controversial ballot measure to exempt firms like Uber and Lyft from having to classify their gig workers in the state as employees rather than as independent contractors.

Terri Gerstein of the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program and Economic Policy Institute said in an email to CNN Business that the result will "leave thousands of California workers in a precarious and perilous position, without basic rights...

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Uber won its prized contractor status for drivers. Now what?

November 5, 2020

Joel Rosenblatt, Robert Wilkens-Iafolla and Erin Mulvane
Bloomberg

Uber and Lyft on Tuesday fended off labor protections that were decades in the making, allowing the companies to keep compensating their drivers as independent contractors. While Proposition 22 requires these app-based transportation services to offer some modest new perks for drivers, it keeps them from having to provide benefits that full-time employees get. 

“Prop 22 creates these rights, but as slender and grossly insufficient as they may be, there’s real questions whether workers can access them,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.... Read more about Uber won its prized contractor status for drivers. Now what?

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Inside Scalia’s Pro-Industry Revamp of Labor Agency Enforcement

November 2, 2020

Ben Penn
Bloomberg News

Scalia’s primary objective as U.S. Labor Secretary has been to solidify an enforcement philosophy at DOL that’s predictable for employers. Businesses had railed against the Obama administration for what they viewed as its overly punitive, “gotcha"-style tactics. Their frustration mounted when President Donald Trump‘s first labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was slow to rebalance the enforcement landscape.

Opponents say Scalia has failed to leverage the department’s enforcement functions to defend workers at a time when their lives and...

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2020 Oct 26

State AGs Protecting Workers' Rights Roundtable

1:00pm to 2:00pm

Location: 

online via Zoom

On Monday, October 26 at 1 pm EST we hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on how state attorneys general have been taking action to protect workers. We were joined by:

D.C.  Attorney General  Karl Racine Illinois  Attorney General  Kwame Raoul Minnesota Attorney General  Keith Ellison Pennsylvania Attorney General  Josh Shapiro Terri Gerstein,  Harvard LWP

D.C. Attorney General
Karl Racine

Illinois
Attorney General
Kwame Raoul

Minnesota
Attorney General
Keith Ellison

Pennsylvania
Attorney General
Josh Shapiro

Moderator:
Terri Gerstein,
Harvard LWP

In recent years, there has been a surge of activity by a number of state attorneys general in protecting workers’ rights. As detailed in a recent report issued by the Economic Policy Institute and the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, state AGs have:

  • Brought civil lawsuits and criminally prosecuted employers for wage theft;
  • Combatted no-poach and non-compete agreements, which suppress wages/job mobility;
  • Fought misclassification of workers as independent contractors instead of employees;
  • Opposed and challenged anti-worker rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor; and
  • Taken action on behalf of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Since 2015, six AG offices, including those of our speakers, have established units within their offices dedicated to protecting workers.

View video of roundtable discussion.... Read more about State AGs Protecting Workers' Rights Roundtable

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Gig companies want to change the rules about who qualifies as an employee. Here's why they're wrong

October 15, 2020

Opinion by Terri Gerstein
for CNN Business Perspectives

Gig companies are urging Congress and state lawmakers to create a new category of worker, without the full protections that employees receive. But like all other businesses, gig companies should be required to treat their workers as employees, not as independent contractors or any other designation.

Policy decisions should not be made on the basis of a few large companies' self-interest. Rather, we should act based on what's best for society, which includes ensuring decent, dignified treatment for the people whose work makes our country run. That necessarily involves placing some obligations on companies.

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McDonald’s Legal Boss Jerry Krulewitch Retires

October 15, 2020

Ruiqi Chen
Bloomberg Law

McDonald’s in recent years has become one of the highest profile corporations battling over the question of joint employment, or whether a franchise company is legally responsible as an employer of workers at restaurants owned by franchisees.

“The whole concept of trying to impute a perceived wrong on the part of a franchise to the main entity, or vice versa, is really problematic,” said Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris in the employment, labor, benefits and immigration practice group. He said that efforts to classify McDonald’s as a joint employer eliminated the nature of a franchise system, which gives franchisees day-to-day control of operations.

“To me, it’s clear that in many instances, they should be found a joint employer,” Gerstein said. “But certain courts have allowed the franchise model to be a way for companies to evade the responsibility for ensuring a franchisee complies with the law.”... Read more about McDonald’s Legal Boss Jerry Krulewitch Retires

From tackling payroll fraud to suing Trump: Nessel recognized as leading AG on workers’ rights

September 7, 2020

By Laina G. Stebbins
Michigan Advance

Attorney General Dana Nessel is one of the leading state AGs in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new report published by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) prior to Labor Day.

The economic justice think tank details the more prominent role state attorneys general have taken in labor rights issues since mid-2018 and lists specific ways each has advanced workers’ protections, both on the state and federal level.

“While there are variations in state attorney general office resources and jurisdiction, these offices often have a range of powers that can enable them to advance and defend workplace protections and ensure that employers comply with the law,” EPI Senior Fellow Terri Gerstein writes in the report.... Read more about From tackling payroll fraud to suing Trump: Nessel recognized as leading AG on workers’ rights

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Labor Day is a time to recognize all unions do — to help health care, education, even marriage

September 7, 2020

By Terri Gerstein
NBC News

On this Labor Day of 2020, remember the full picture of what unions do. They serve their members, yes, but they bring many other benefits, and they’re essential for a healthy, thriving democracy for all of us. In addition to helping the workers who are their members, unions bring many other benefits to the general public, like increasing voter turnout, decreased racial resentment among white union members, better patient outcomes in hospitals with unionized nurses, and reduced income inequality. 

 

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State Attorneys General Are Helping Workers in Hard Times

September 7, 2020

BY  Terri Gerstein
American Prospect

Trump’s administration is AWOL in the fight for worker safety, but a growing number of state attorneys general are focusing on worker rights and protections.

Within the past five years, six of these AG offices—in D.C., Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—have created dedicated units devoted to labor issues (they joined California, Massachusetts, and New York, which have long had such units). Dedicated sections within the agency allow the assigned lawyers to develop specialized expertise and long-...

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American Job Losses and Recovery by State

August 28, 2020

Deb Gordon
Money Geek

COVID-19 has led to stunning economic disruption. As infection hotspots pop up around the country, states have grappled with excruciating choices between protecting public health and bolstering the economy. Optimizing for both has proven difficult, if not impossible.

Is there anything else you see in the state employment/unemployment data that offers insight into what may lie ahead?

Gerstein: I am concerned that continuing high unemployment rates will lead to higher rates of labor violations, including safety and health, because it will make it harder for workers to speak up. Although it's illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for reporting violations, studies show high rates of such retaliation, even before the pandemic. In a high unemployment situation, the consequences of employer retaliation are even worse because it's more difficult for workers to find a new job. Pre-COVID, there was already a great disparity of bargaining power between employers and workers; that disparity is exacerbated by high unemployment, which may lead to further degraded working conditions. At the same time, the seriousness of COVID-related health risks has also led to an increase in worker organizing and activism. I anticipate and hope that this trend will continue.

Freeman: I always look at the insured unemployment rate, which is the number of people getting unemployment insurance. It has been dropping a bit in the past few months, but largely because some folks are being rehired. The only way to get unemployment down to healthy levels is by creating new jobs, and we see very little there.

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Covid Gag Rules at U.S. Companies Are Putting Everyone at Risk

August 27, 2020

Josh Eidelson
Bloomberg Business

In the past few months, U.S. businesses have been on a silencing spree. Hundreds of U.S. employers across a wide range of industries have told workers not to share information about Covid-19 cases or even raise concerns about the virus, or have retaliated against workers for doing those things, according to workplace complaints filed with the NLRB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In July, Colorado’s governor signed a similar law, making it illegal for companies to require workers to keep health concerns private or retaliate against workers who raise them. A few days after the Colorado bill signing, Virginia’s state safety board passed its own binding Covid regulations, including a ban on retaliation against workers who raise reasonable concerns at work or on social media and a requirement that companies notify co-workers and the state about coronavirus cases.... Read more about Covid Gag Rules at U.S. Companies Are Putting Everyone at Risk

Terri Gerstein. 8/27/2020. Workers’ rights protection and enforcement by state attorneys general. Economic Policy Institute. Economic Policy Institute.Abstract

Key takeaways

  • State attorneys general (AGs) have been playing a key role in enforcing and protecting workers’ rights.
  • State AGs have dramatically increased their involvement in this area in recent years; this report documents these activities in detail. Here are just a few examples of the many ways state AGs are protecting workers’ rights:
    • Helping workers attain safer working conditions during the pandemic
    • Recovering stolen wages through civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions
    • Fighting misclassification of workers as independent contractors instead of employees
    • Cracking down on companies’ use of noncompete and no-poach agreements, which limit job mobility
    • Proposing and supporting legislation to safeguard workers’ rights
  • State AG offices engaged in workers’ rights issues should continue to build on the work they’re doing, and more state AGs should join the effort.
  • State legislatures should grant explicit authority to state attorneys general to enforce workplace rights laws and should ideally also fund positions for enforcement.
  • Worker organizations and advocates should seek to build relationships and work with their state AGs to safeguard workers’ rights in their states.
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Workers’ Rights Protection and Enforcement by State Attorneys General

August 27, 2020

by Terri Gerstein
with Economic Policy Institute

Download Report (PDF)

State attorneys general can play a critical role in protecting and enforcing workers’ rights. There has been a significant uptick in the involvement of state attorneys general in this area in the past several years. Most recently, several state attorneys general have been highly active in taking action to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

While there are variations in state attorney general office resources and jurisdiction, these offices often have a range of powers that can enable them to advance and defend workplace protections and ensure that employers comply with the law. This current report details the proliferation of state attorney general activities in support of workers’ rights from mid-2018 to the present.

Related news articles: 
Pa. is part of growing movement of state AGs defending workers’ rights, report finds, Philadelphia Inquirer, by Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Posted: August 27, 2020
State AGs Taking On Bigger Workplace Enforcement Role, Law360 , By Braden Campbell Posted: August 28, 2020

... Read more about Workers’ Rights Protection and Enforcement by State Attorneys General

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No Mask, No Service Rules Leave Workers Open to Customer Abuse

July 21, 2020

Robert Iafolla
Fatima Hussein
Bloomberg Law

Retail and food service workers who face verbal abuse and even physical violence from customers objecting to pandemic mask requirements have little legal guarantee that their employers will protect them.

“Mask requirements protect workers and create legal and social norms,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program. “Not having mask requirements makes it exponentially harder for businesses to require them, and it sets up workers at retail establishments and in the service industry to have exactly these kinds of confrontations.”... Read more about No Mask, No Service Rules Leave Workers Open to Customer Abuse

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These Furloughed Workers Must Sign Arbitration Agreements To Get Their Jobs Back

July 22, 2020

Dave Jamieson
HuffPost

Jana Alexander was furloughed from her job at The Container Store when the pandemic began in early spring. With the economy reopening, the company recently invited her back to her old position at her store in Southlake, Texas. But there was a catch.

Alexander would have to sign an arbitration agreement, giving up her right to sue The Container Store in court if she was mistreated. Her welcome-back letter made clear she had little choice in the matter if she wanted to draw a paycheck: “This job offer is contingent upon agreeing to our Mutual...

Read more about These Furloughed Workers Must Sign Arbitration Agreements To Get Their Jobs Back

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