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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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Labor Board Repeatedly Topples Precedent Without Public Input

July 12, 2019

Robert Iafolla'
Reporter
Bloomberg Law

The National Labor Relations Board’s ruling last week that made it easier for employers to oust unions marked at least the 10th time during the Trump administration that the NLRB settled case law without giving prior notice or an opportunity for public input, according to a review of decisions.

 

The NLRB has invited briefing in at least four cases since Republicans took control of the board in 2017. The Obama board more frequently sought outside views. It called for public briefing a dozen times from 2014...

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2019 Jun 13

Strategies for Building Worker Power

9:30am to 12:30pm

Location: 

The Economic Policy Institute 1225 Eye St. NW, Suite 600 Washington, D.C. 20005

A growing body of research shows the systematic erosion of workers’ bargaining power over the past 40-plus years is at the root of wage stagnation for working people and rising inequality. If policymakers wish to address these issues, they must look to policies that build up worker power.

The Economic Policy Institute, National Employment Law Project, and Jobs with Justice invite you to a June 13 symposium to discuss how to proactively reclaim worker power, featuring panels and speakers discussing the range of policies and practices workers and advocates are pursuing to give people a greater say over their own workplaces.

Keynote by Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

More Information... Read more about Strategies for Building Worker Power

Law 360 logo

NLRB Case Hinders Workers' Path To Justice

June 3, 2019

By Sharon Block
Law 360

Recently, 23 McDonald’s workers told the company that “Time’s Up” — they stood together and filed sexual harassment claims[3] with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and lawsuits against the company. Another group of workers filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,[4] asking the federal agency to hold McDonald’s accountable for failing to take reasonable steps to protect them from on-the-job violence. 

In a little-noticed National Labor Relations Board filing, the Trump administration recently has opened a new front in its war on American workers aimed squarely at efforts like those taken by these brave McDonald’s workers. The Trump-appointed general counsel of the NLRB is arguing[5] in a case on remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Tarlton and Son Inc., that workers have no protection under federal labor law if they are fired for filing a lawsuit or a claim with a federal agency to protect their rights. If successful, the general counsel’s position would mean that your employer can refuse to pay you and your coworkers the wages that you are owed and then fire you when you complain to the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit to get your money. 

Politico logo

1 year after Janus, unions are flush

May 17, 2019

By REBECCA RAINEY and IAN KULLGREN
Politico

As Janus’ one-year anniversary approaches, a POLITICO review of 10 large public-employee unions indicates they lost a combined 309,612 fee payers in 2018. But paradoxically, all but one reported more money at the end of 2018. And collectively, the 10 unions reported a gain of 132,312members.

How did public employee unions end up with more money and in most cases with more members after a Supreme Court ruling that was expected to eviscerate both?

The answer appears to be preemptive organizing. “Unions were really prepared because, sadly, the outcome was really predictable,” Block said.... Read more about 1 year after Janus, unions are flush

2019 May 08

American Constitution Society: The Supreme Corp. Have Corporate and Right-Wing Interests Captured the Court?

11:30am to 2:30pm

Location: 

Center for American Progress 1333 H Street, Northwest, Tenth Floor Washington, District of Columbia 20001

Have the conservative justices on the Court been effectively “captured” by these corporate and right-wing interests? If so, what role has the nominations process played and what can be done to reverse this trend and ensure the Court serves only the interest of impartiality, objectivity, and the rule of law? 

Sharon Block, LWP Executive Director, will be a panelist at this event.

...

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Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

April 29, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department weighed in Monday on a question whose answer could be worth billions of dollars to gig-economy companies, deciding that one company’s workers were contractors, not employees.

Sharon Block, a top official in the Obama Labor Department who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said it was hard to tell from the facts in the Labor Department’s letter whether the workers using the platform in question were truly independent contractors. But she said there seemed to be a stronger case to make for contractor status in that case than for Uber.

“This as a strategy makes sense,” Ms. Block said. “They set the standard in a way that makes it really clear this company gets past it, and in a way that’s going to help them in the harder cases.”

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The Last Kennedy

April 21, 2019

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 
The Atlantic

He’s the last Kennedy left in politics. He’s young, has a national profile, and has come at economics and other issues more thoughtfully and more forcefully than most of the people who are running for president.

He was already at work on a speech he was writing on his big idea: moral capitalism. A few months earlier, in late 2017, Kennedy had emailed Sharon Block, the director of the school’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Ted Kennedy aide, asking for help in developing his concept, which he was viewing as a kind of working political philosophy. He’d come by her office early in the new year and they talked for hours, back and forth, about books to read. They kept the conversation going via email as Kennedy and his staff kept building up ideas.

U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

April 1, 2019

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

The Labor Department released a proposal on Monday that would limit claims against big companies for employment-law violations by franchisees or contractors.

 

Under the doctrine set by the board during the Obama administration, a company is considered a joint employer if it exercises direct or indirect control over workers hired by a franchisee or contractor.

But the board, now with a Republican majority, is considering ...

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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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