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

May 22, 2020

By Dave Jamieson

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

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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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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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Noncompete agreements allow bosses to chain workers to their jobs. We need to free them.

January 11, 2020

By Terri Gerstein
NBC News

Noncompete agreements — which typically prohibit an employee from working for a competitor within a certain field and geographic locale, often for 1 to 2 years — were once reserved for high-ranking executives and people who knew highly guarded trade secrets. But in recent years, they began to be imposed willy-nilly on all kinds of workers: medical technicians and dog walkers, journalists and janitors. With little fanfare, modern-day employers have been reinstating an expectation of servitude that should have disappeared long ago.

All of us should be concerned about the rampant growth of noncompetes and how they are hampering the freedom of workers and the economy. Why? For one thing, basic fairness: Just because you work for a company now doesn’t mean it should be able to lock you into that job; people should be able to advance in their lives and careers.

America needs paid sick leave laws to stop coronavirus from spreading

America needs paid sick leave laws to stop coronavirus from spreading

March 4, 2020

The Hill

Coronavirus has laid bare the extent to which the failure of our nation to require paid sick leave has now endangered all of us. Congress needs to urgently pass paid sick leave laws, but states and cities must not wait for that and take action now. In some jurisdictions, this may require making compromises, such as a sunset provision or some aid to small employers.... Read more about America needs paid sick leave laws to stop coronavirus from spreading

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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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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.
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OIRA 2.0: Using OIRA for Progressive Regulation

April 24, 2020

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
How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

April 7, 2020

The Hill

An unprecedented 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance across the country over the last two weeks with more likely to come. Many employers are responding to shutdown orders, lack of cash flow, and the crisis by laying people off. Leaders have enacted measures to encourage employers to avoid more layoffs, such as conditioning business loans on maintaining payroll and providing tax credits for payroll expenses.

Instead of laying off, for instance, half of the workforce, a company would decrease the hours of its employees by half. These workers would then be paid for 50 percent of their time and would receive unemployment compensation for the other 50 percent. More than two dozen states already have working sharing programs up and running, along the broad political spectrum, from California to Nebraska.

Parajuli, Kabita

Kabita Parajuli

Clean Slate Future of Labor Law Program Fellow

Kabita Parajuli is a Clean Slate Future of Labor Law Program Fellow. She is currently working with Portland Jobs with Justice to help develop alternative forms of organizing to support retail sector workers. Prior to joining the Clean Slate Program/Jobs with Justice, Kabita worked in the Community Development Project of Public Counsel in Los Angeles, where she provided legal representation and advice to community organizations, low-income entrepreneurs, and worker cooperative clients. Her interests lie at the intersection of economic and racial justice, human rights, and migration – all of which are implicated in the rise and exploitation of low-income workforces. Kabita  received her J.D. from UCLA School of Law, where she was part of the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, and involved with the International and Comparative Law specialization and the Critical Race Studies program. Her B.A. is from Columbia University.

Shiqi Guo

Shiqi Guo

LWP Fellow
Research on Development Economics and Environmental Economics in China
Shiqi Guo is an LWP Fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, from September 2019 to May 2020. He is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. He has been working on Development Economics, Behavioral Economics, Environmental Economics, and Political Economy. He has conducted a field experiment in a prison and studies the in-group favoritism among prison inmates. He has also studied the temporal and spatial pattern of the air pollution caused by straw burning fires in China. Currently, he explores the biographies of local Chinese politicians and examines how their policy preferences are shaped by their life experiences.

Press Conference to release “Confronting Misclassification and Payroll Fraud” report

June 26, 2019

Massachusetts Atorney General Maura Healey held a press conference at the State House to highlight the LWP report  “Confronting Misclassification and Payroll Fraud,” by Mark Erlich and Terri Gerstein. The report details the increasing role of state agencies in enforcing misclassification laws and providing worker protections, crucial in an era of lax federal enforcement. 

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