Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School Former Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program 2017-2021
Sharon Block is a Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. Piror to returning to Harvard, she served as the Acting Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in President Joe Biden’s White House.
From 2017 to 2021, Block led the Labor and Worklife Program. During this time, she launched the Clean Slate for Worker Power project, which is a comprehensive policy initiative focused on fundamental redesign of labor law with the aspiration to enable all working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.... Read more about Sharon Block
Investors should avoid simple one-number metrics when assessing whether companies have good labour practices for their workers, according to labour lawyer and former Biden and Obama Administration official Sharon Block.
Historically, building a union in the United States has been a grassroots process. For example, while workers at one Chipotle may succeed in bargaining for better wages, that doesn't guarantee the same success for the Chipotle across town or the Qdoba down the street.
But California's FAST Recovery Act (Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act) may flip America's labor dynamic on its head. Instead of a bottom-up approach, why not a top-down approach where industry representatives decide on working standards for all? There's even a phase for this: Sectoral bargaining.... Read more about A super-sized labor experiment
Many American workers have very little control over their schedules. For some, that translates to too few hours, or a complete lack of control of when they’re expected to work week to week. For others, it means too many hours they can’t say no to. Often (but not always), mandatory overtime comes with a carrot of being paid time and a half for their labor. Sometimes, the carrot isn’t worth it, but workers have no choice. Their employer also has the stick and can fire them for refusing.
“There’s essentially no scheduling protection for workers in this country, and we have a problem on both ends of the spectrum,” said Sharon Block, a law professor at Harvard and former Biden administration official. “You don’t even have protections when you complain about it unless you do it collectively. But if you, just as an individual, go to your boss and say, ‘I’m just really tired of working all this overtime, do you think you could not schedule me for overtime this week?’ An employer can fire you for that.”
“The real world is exciting and fun in a way, which for labor lawyers hasn’t always been true,” she said in a conversation with Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry Benjamin I. Sachs. Block recently returned to Harvard as executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School after a career that included key positions in both the Obama and Biden administrations — serving on the former’s National Labor Relations Board, and as acting administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Biden.
We’re seeing organization in workplaces that were previously thought to be un-organizable. These workers are getting over that hurdle, so is that going to inspire more organizing?
The path to change, she said, may instead be political. “Not to abandon organizing but having more people in Congress who will vote for labor law reform. You mobilize people around the big issues, not by nibbling around the edges.”
If you’ve talked to anyone about work in the last month, you’ve probably discussed quiet quitting (or setting boundaries), the not-so-quiet backlash from bosses, and even warnings of quiet firing (or managing out).
All the while, the Great Resignation has become less of an anomaly as sky-high turnover every month has become the new norm. Even worries of a looming recession and mounting layoffs haven’t shaken workers’ confidence.
For those of us who support unions, we have an unfamiliar feeling this Labor Day. It’s a feeling of hope and celebration. This is unfamiliar territory because union organizing has been in a free fall for decades now. But we can smile this Labor Day because American workers have delivered a lot to celebrate and, even more importantly, a lot to be inspired by. Workers this year have accomplished what just a few years ago seemed impossible — they have created positive momentum for a labor movement that many left for dead. Baristas at Starbucks, warehouse workers at Amazon, geniuses at Apple, crew members at Trader Joe’s, and salespeople at REI all now share an unexpected common title — union member. And we can see in the results of Gallup’s latest poll that this momentum is contagious: support for unions among the public — 71 percent — is at the highest level since 1965.
But we find our celebratory mood tempered somewhat by a recognition of two things: first, the enormous effort it took for workers to achieve these victories, and, second, how much difficult work remains ahead. Put simply, it just shouldn’t be this hard, this heroic, this extraordinary, to organize a union and bargain a contract.... Read more about This Labor Day We’re Inspired, but It Shouldn’t Be This Difficult
Tens of thousands of US railroad workers could be on strike by the end of this week, a potential new shock to supply chains that would pose a pre-midterm political quandary for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
“In this moment where there’s so much public concern about supply chain and inflation, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Congress to step in,” said Sharon Block, who worked in the Obama and Biden administrations and is now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and...
In a step toward affirming the groundbreaking vote on Staten Island that created the nation’s first union of Amazon warehouse workers, a National Labor Relations Board official recommended rejecting the e-commerce giant’s claims that the vote was invalid.
While the NLRB’s decision on Thursday was a welcome win for the workers, their battle is far from over – and a first contract is still out of reach.
“The company and the union must bargain in good faith…. That means that they must agree to meet at a reasonable time in private and try to reach an agreement,” the workforce staffing manager, identified as Eric, said. “The law does not say that they have to reach an agreement. They just have to try to.”
That’s one reason why it takes an average of 465 days for workers to sign a first union contract, according to a recent Bloomberg Law analysis.
Sharon Block, a professor at Harvard Law School and executive director of the school’s Labor & Worklife Program, said the loophole amounts to a “huge flaw” in federal labor law that erodes worker morale.
“From an employer’s perspective who doesn’t want to bargain, you just pay some lawyers a little bit of money, and you can forestall bargaining,” she said. “Meanwhile, the union has to expend resources, almost continually organizing because you have a bargaining unit that’s saying, ‘Well, what did we do this for?’ And it’s not the union’s fault – It’s just this weakness in the law.”
The fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda could soon rest with the administrator of a tiny office deep within the White House.
“OIRA is always at the center of administrative activity — the joke is it’s the most powerful agency nobody’s ever heard of,” said Sharon Block, who served as its acting chief through Biden’s first year. “Now, it becomes even more important.”
If signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, the law would allow hundreds of thousands of fast food workers to bargain collectively over the terms of their work at large companies across the sector, rather than be forced to form a union at a single workplace and negotiate with one employer at a time. Using a newly created state-level council, California could raise pay and improve working conditions for the industry.
"It's really significant because it's giving fast food workers a seat at the table on a sector-wide basis," Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard University Law School, told ABC News.
More than 200 Starbucks have now unionized across the country as well as two Trader Joe’s and an Apple store. The shop-by-shop approach creates a constant drumbeat of union activity, though each of these drives involves a relatively small number of workers.
“It’s simply easier to do,” he said, involving far fewer logistical challenges. Workers can even undertake organizing small workplaces on their own, without the resources of a powerful union. It’s...
Our current model of collective bargaining leaves millions of workers out in the cold. Sectoral bargaining could change all that—and, just maybe, rebuild our shrunken middle class.
Sectoral bargaining also has the potential to disincentivize employer opposition to unionization. Under our current bargaining system, companies compete with each other over wages, and most managers thus believe that unionization will put them at a competitive disadvantage. Sectoral bargaining takes wages out of competition, requiring all companies in a sector to follow the same rules and adhere to the same standards, thus preventing a race to the bottom that pits workers against one another and drives down wages and living standards.
Employers then have to compete based on other factors, such as greater productivity or the quality of their product. With sectoral bargaining, as Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, explained: “You don’t have workers bearing the full burden of the competitiveness that is inherent in capitalism.”... Read more about Thinking Sectorally