Staff

Sharon Block

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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Ending the Dead-End-Job Trap

July 12, 2018

By Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block
NY Times Op Ed

It’s the American dream: We’re supposed to improve ourselves, get a better job, move on and up. But in too many instances, secret agreements between employers are stifling workers’ ability to parlay their hard work and experience into better-paying jobs and a chance to climb the career ladder.

On Thursday, the attorney general of Washington State, Bob Ferguson, announced that he had obtained agreements from seven fast-food chains, including Arby’s, Carl’s Jr. and McDonald’s, not to use or enforce “no poach” or “no hire” agreements. Under these arrangements, franchisees pledge not to hire job applicants who are current or recent employees of the company or any of its franchisees, without the approval of the applicants’ employers.... Read more about Ending the Dead-End-Job Trap

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The Kavanaugh Nomination and Labor

July 10, 2018

[Sharon Block] provides an overview of [Kavanaugh's] record and attempt to make the case that his record reflects a sustained and, at times, aggressive hostility to the role of the law in protecting the vulnerable and less powerful.

The Agri Processor dissent is significant for a number of reasons.  First, it reflects a broader trend in Kavanaugh’s record of being unsympathetic to the plight of immigrants. His dissent reflects a willingness to write groups of workers completely out of basic labor standards – here all undocumented...

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Brett Kavanaugh Ruled Against Workers When No One Else Did

July 10, 2018

By Dave Jamieson
Huffpost

His dissents involving undocumented meatpacking workers and a death at SeaWorld tell us a lot about the worldview of Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

The Agri Processor case provides a window into Kavanaugh’s thinking when it comes to workers’ rights. Like the conservative justices he would join at the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh has tended to side with employers in workplace disputes. If confirmed, he would almost certainly continue the Supreme Court’s run of business-friendly rulings in contentious, precedent-setting cases that have weakened labor unions and class-action lawsuits in recent years.

In his dissent, Kavanaugh argued that undocumented workers were no longer employees under the law due to the 1986 law passed by Congress. In Block’s view, Kavanaugh’s opinion sidestepped Supreme Court precedent and denied workers safeguards they deserved regardless of their legal status.

“It shows a willingness to go out of his way to write a whole group of people out of the protection of the [law],” said Block. “And I find that to be troubling.”... Read more about Brett Kavanaugh Ruled Against Workers When No One Else Did

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AFTER JANUS, THE COUNTRY’S LARGEST PUBLIC-SECTOR UNION TAKES STOCK OF ITS MOVEMENT

July 8, 2018

Rachel M. Cohen
The Intercept

THE ANNUAL MEETING of the National Education Association, the country’s largest public-sector union, held in Minnesota this week, was much more high stakes than in years past. Typically, the convention is a chance for educators to vote on bread-and-butter issues like budget priorities and advocacy target areas. In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dealt a crippling blow to public-sector unions, they debated strategies to expand their membership, keep union members apprised of their rights, and recover from the...

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Tesla Severance Offer Draws the Line on Worker-Safety Concerns

June 18, 2018

Josh Eidelson, Dana Hull
Bloomberg

Language in a confidential severance agreement Tesla Inc. is using as part of the biggest job cut in its history is likely to deter dismissed employees from going public with worker safety concerns, according to employment-law experts.

“The implication is, if you went to OSHA and you said, ‘Here’s something new I want to tell you about a safety concern at Tesla,’ and then OSHA asks the company to respond to that allegation, the company is going to say, ‘That employee told us that they raised everything,’” said Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.

Free Speech Rights: Public Employees v. Football Players
Sharon Block and Maddy Joseph. 5/30/2018. “Free Speech Rights: Public Employees v. Football Players.” OnLabor.org. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The NFL players in a very real and direct way are being forced to support publicly the political views of their employers at the behest of the government. The rule forces players to abandon expression of their own strongly held beliefs about racism, police violence, solidarity among NFL players, and the meaning of patriotism. Moreover, by making them stand during the anthem, the rule is meant to force the players to adopt, as Ben put it, “a particular vision of patriotism.” 

The Supreme Court has warned against the danger of government-imposed patriotic orthodoxy. In finding unconstitutional a law that required school children to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Justice Jackson wrote for the majority in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 

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Series One: Many Roads to Quality Work • Issue Two: Amplifying Workers’ Voices in an Evolving Economy - Invested

May 23, 2018

Representation
Sharon Block is invterviewed by Suzanne Cummings
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Understanding the vital importance of strength in numbers to rights and representation, labor unions have served as the central outlet for worker voice in the United States since the New Deal Era. For generations, unions sought to protect and advance workers' right to a safe and fair work environment. While some union organizations remain strong and active today, overall union membership has dropped in the U.S. over the past few decades even as recent surveys show interest growing among nonunion workers in joining unions. Our opening section in this issue on worker voice digs into the reasons for and results of these changing dynamics, and explores how unions are evolving and building new connections within a radically different economy today.

"Union density in this country is now lower than it was before workers had a protected right to join unions. That says to me that there’s something pretty fundamental not working in our law." Sharon Block

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Knight: Workers’ ‘day in court’ axed in Court’s arbitration ruling

June 9, 2018

By Bill Knight / Opinion columnist
Pekin Daily Times

 

A U.S. Supreme Court majority on May 21 unleashed employers to run roughshod over labor law, ruling 5-4 that employers can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and other workplace disputes. The Court’s five-justice conservative bloc said employers may require employees, as a condition of employment, to give up any joint legal remedy despite of the guarantee of New Deal laws stating that workers have a right to unionize or “engage in other concerted activities for the...

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