Staff

Sharon Block photo

Sharon Block

Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program

Sharon Block was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor and Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor.

For twenty years, Block has held key labor policy positions across the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. Early in her career she worked as an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board, and returned to the NLRB in 2012 when she was appointed to serve as a member of the Board by President Obama. She was senior counsel to the Senate HELP committee under Senator Edward Kennedy, playing a central role in the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act. She has held senior positions in the U.S. Department of Labor throughout her career. Recently, as head of the policy office at the Department of Labor, Block hosted - with Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil and Open Societies Foundation's Ken Zimmerman - the Department's three-day symposium on the Future of Work. The symposium brought together a wide array of thought leaders to address how changes in labor markets and business models have impacts on key issues such as enforcement, labor standards, workforce development, employee benefits, and data in the U.S. and around the world.... Read more about Sharon Block

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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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Labor Department Leadership Vacancies Could Threaten Policy Work

January 7, 2019

by Jaclyn Diaz
Bloomberg

The Labor Department is starting 2019 without confirmed officials in several key leadership posts, vacancies the business community fears could derail some policy initiatives.

The department doesn’t have confirmed leaders for seven sub-agencies after the Jan. 4 departure of Bryan Jarrett, who was serving as acting administrator for the Wage and Hour Division.

“I can certainly say there was nothing like this during our time,” Sharon Block, a former DOL policy office head under President Barack Obama, told...

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The Return of the Strike

January 3, 2019

By Steven Greenhouse
American Prospect

This year, thousands of teachers, hotel workers, Google employees, and others walked off the job and won major gains. Which raises two questions: Why now? And will this continue?

Some labor experts say the recent surge of strikes could portend a new wave of labor activism, as more and more workers see that collective action can pay off. Others argue that the recent surge is more likely a one-time blip of militancy that will fade away as organized labor’s long-term decline continues.

Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, says labor’s renewed militancy reflects a broader shift in the zeitgeist. “When there’s a lot of collective action happening more generally—the Women’s March, immigration advocates, gun rights—people are thinking more about acting collectively, which is something that people hadn’t been thinking about for a long time in this country in a significant way.”... Read more about The Return of the Strike

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Joint Employer Labor Regulation Clouded by Court Decision

January 5, 2019

Hassan A. Kanu and Jon Steingart
Bloomberg News

The NLRB acted properly in 2015 when it adopted a more expansive test for determining when companies in franchise, staffing, and other relationships should be considered joint employers for liability and collective bargaining purposes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held Dec. 28. The board broke new ground with that test by saying that a company that has the authority to exert control over another company’s workforce could be required to bargain with or be held liable for unfair labor practices against the workers, even if it doesn’t exercise that ability.

The NLRB’s test, crafted by a Democratic majority, has been the subject of heated debate in the business community, courts, and Congress, highlighted by litigation involving McDonald’s and allegations against Microsoft. The now Republican-majority board is working on a regulation that would limit joint employment and allow businesses more leeway to outsource labor and other components.... Read more about Joint Employer Labor Regulation Clouded by Court Decision

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Clean Slate Update

December 12, 2018

by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs
OnLabor.org

Last spring, we promised to share information about the project we’ve launched at Harvard Law School, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law Reform.”

On Labor Day,  we laid out our vision for this ambitious project:  (1) reimagining collective bargaining; (2) expanding the range of available worker organizations; (3) ensuring that collective action leverages power; (4) using benefits and enforcement to strengthen worker organizations; (5) updating other legal regimes to empower workers; and (6) addressing persistent, historical inequities that have plagued the labor movement.... Read more about Clean Slate Update

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More Employers Turn to Arbitration to Handle Job Claims

December 6, 2018

By Jaclyn Diaz
Bloomber Law

 

Many major employers, including other tech companies that have done away with mandatory clauses on harassment, maintain arbitration agreements for most wage-and-hour and discrimination claims. The use of arbitration clauses to handle employment claims is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, sources told Bloomberg Law.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys and worker advocates are hoping employers will end the practice for all employment claims, saying it’s especially harmful for low-wage workers.

Arbitration clauses...

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Tech companies like Google are giving workers the right to take sexual harassment claims to court — but employees are calling for more

November 19, 2018

Employees and labor activists say they want to see an end to forced arbitration in all cases — not just for sexual harassment — and for all workers.
By Shirin Ghaffary and Rani Molla 
Recode.net

 

Amid increasing public scrutiny, many major tech companies are reconsidering a practice that bars workers from taking their employer to court over workplace issues such as sexual harassment.

In the past two weeks alone, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, eBay and Square all announced they’d end forced arbitration for cases of sexual harassment. Forced arbitration is an agreement that requires employees to settle disputes in-house rather than in the courts,

The announcement is good news for tech employees because arbitration generally works in favor of employers and tends to involve lower payouts than traditional court cases.

 

“I’m glad sexual harassment is getting that visibility,” Terri Gerstein, director of the state and local enforcement project at Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program, told Recode. “I want other workplace abuses to get this visibility, too.”

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BuzzFeed Is Ending Forced Arbitration Policy For Sexual Harassment Claims Following Inquiries

November 20, 2018

Davey Alba
BuzzFeed News 

BuzzFeed will end its requirement of mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims — a policy that prevents workers from airing their grievances in open court — after BuzzFeed News raised questions about the company’s policy as part of a larger investigation into the practice in the tech industry.

Forced arbitration policies “can be both standard [in workplaces] and wrong at...

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