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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2018 Feb 26

What Fight for $15 and ‘Alt-Labor’ Tells Us About the Past and Future of the American Middle Class

12:05pm to 12:50pm

Location: 

WCC 2004 Classroom, Harvard Law School

Sharon Block, former Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor and head of the policy office at the Department of Labor, will discuss how the decline of the labor movement in the U.S. has led to a crisis for the American middle class and offer insights into the worker organizations that may fill the economic and political void.

Hosted by the HLS American Constitution Society

Read more about What Fight for $15 and ‘Alt-Labor’ Tells Us About the Past and Future of the American Middle Class
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Trump’s ‘Tip-Pooling’ Plan Could Screw Your Bartender

February 13, 2018

By Dave Jamieson
HuffPost

The Trump administration is seeking to change wage regulations so that restaurants and other businesses with tipped workers can decide how the gratuities are divvied up.

 

Sharon Block, a former Labor Department official under Obama, said it’s hard to read the proposal any other way. In adopting a judge’s dissent in a tip-sharing lawsuit, Trump’s team seems to argue that the Labor Department can’t tell an employer what to do ― or not do ― with a worker’s tips if the employer pays the federal...

Read more about Trump’s ‘Tip-Pooling’ Plan Could Screw Your Bartender
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Trump’s Labor Board Is Making it Even More Difficult to Unionize Fast-Food Workers

February 9, 2018

By Michelle Chen
The Nation

In a jarring reversal of fortunes, a pending National Labor Relations Board case that was supposed to be a weapon for unionizing hundreds of thousands of low-wage fast-food workers under Obama may now morph into an anti-labor bludgeon for big business under Trump. The fate of one of the country’s largest poverty-wage workforces now hangs on an arcane legal debate over whether McDonald’s can be held responsible as a formal employer for all the workers who toil under the Golden Arches.

According to Sharon Block...

Read more about Trump’s Labor Board Is Making it Even More Difficult to Unionize Fast-Food Workers
Washington Post logo

The Trump administration is abandoning McDonald’s workers — and everyone else

February 9, 2018

By Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs
Washington Post

For the past three years, the federal government has painstakingly built a case against the world’s second-largest private employer, McDonald’s, charging the company with illegally harassing and terminating employees who have gone on strike with the “Fight for $15″ campaign.

 

Last month, shortly before the trial was expected to conclude, Peter Robb, the general counsel Trump appointed to the NLRB, announced that he wanted to halt the trial to settle the case with McDonald’s and its franchisees.

Settling a case might not sound so bad. But in this instance, “settling” is a euphemism for abandoning at the 11th hour a groundbreaking inquiry into whether a major employer like McDonald’s should be held accountable for violating the rights of its low-paid workers.... Read more about The Trump administration is abandoning McDonald’s workers — and everyone else

Axios logo

In a shift, young Germans win a 28-hour work week

February 7, 2018

Steve LeVine 
Axios
 

"The deal may presage the growing desire among millennials for a better work-life balance, and a readiness to mute wage demands in exchange for a shorter work week and more time for family, children, and care-giving," Brookings' Mark Muro tells Axios. "In that sense, this is consistent with trends in prosperous countries towards reduced hours, in the midst of plenty."

"but ... don't look for such concessions to reach the U.S. any time soon, suggests Sharon Block, who runs the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. "It shows a growing divide between what is going on here and the rest of the industrialized world," she told Axios.

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Labor of Law: Driving Labor Law Into the Gig Economy

January 29, 2018

By Erin Mulvaney 
Law.com

How Does the Gig Economy Fit into Labor Law? 
New technology. Old questions. That’s the perspective of former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin Jr., who was among the panelists this week at a forum on labor law. Griffin, now counsel to Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington, says there’s nothing new in one of the central questions of the gig economy: Are workers employees or independent contractors? Some of the first major labor cases before the Supreme Court focused on that issue—such as whether newspaper delivery people were considered contractors or employees.

Sharon Block, a former NLRB member and now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, had this to say: “I think there is a tendency to get distracted by the bright, shiny object of technology. To assume that because technology is involved doesn’t mean that standards don’t apply. The standards of the relationship isn’t changed.”... Read more about Labor of Law: Driving Labor Law Into the Gig Economy

logo in these times

Republicans Are Taking Voter Suppression to the Workplace

January 16, 2018

BY SHAUN RICHMAN
In These Times

The very fact that Trump’s NLRB is inviting public comment indicates that it is considering reversing a much older precedent: the 52-year-old Excelsior rule that employers should provide a list of names and addresses of eligible voters in an upcoming union certification election. Sharon Block, a former member of the NLRB and current Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, has argued that the slew of hastily-decided reversals of second-term Obama precedents "seemed to be a rush to set the clock back on workers' rights as much as possible."

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The Trump administration is trying to pass a rule that would allow employers to take billions from their employees' earned tips

January 22, 2018

by Eliza Relman 
Business Insider

The Department of Labor has proposed a new regulation that would allow businesses to collect tips earned by their employees and either redistribute them to non-tipped workers or keep them as part of their own profits. 

Critics say that there is nothing in the regulation that would stop business owners from simply seizing their employees' tips and using the extra income to line their own pockets or make capital investments — a practice they call "tip stealing," or wage theft.

Women and people of color are both more likely to be tipped employees and to earn lower wages than white men, so critics say the law would have a disproportionate adverse impact on both, and particularly women. 

"What is at stake is the ability of women to support themselves and their families," Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School and a former DOL official under the Obama administration, told Business Insider. "People often overlook that minimum wage workers are disproportionately women."

National Law Journal logo

The #MeToo Implications of the Supreme Court's Workplace Class-Action Case

January 24, 2018

By Erin Mulvaney 
The National Law Journal

The outcome of the major U.S. Supreme Court case over whether companies can ban class actions in employment agreements holds new importance as women join together to speak out against sexual misconduct in the workplace, former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin said Wednesday.

 

Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, said forcing workers to bring claims as individuals could have the effect of taking away the rights outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects concerted speech.

“It can eliminate protections for workers who need that protection the most,” Block said. “I think this is a tremendously important case. The consequences of it, if it comes out the wrong way, could be significant.”

These issues were discusses at LWP... Read more about The #MeToo Implications of the Supreme Court's Workplace Class-Action Case

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Worker Centers Seen As Likely Targets For Trump Regulators

January 23, 2018

By Braden Campbell
Law 360

Business advocates who have been pressing the federal government for years to increase its regulation of worker centers like Fight for $15 are more hopeful than ever that they'll get their way after a string of reversals of Obama-era National Labor Relations Board precedent.

"There's been a continuity to this issue across different administrations,” said Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program Executive Director Sharon Block, who was a DOL policy official in the Obama administration. "[Acosta] injected this uncertainty into what I think had no uncertainty."

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Trump NLRB Appointee Finds a Way Around Conflict of Interest Rules

January 23, 2018

by Ian MacDougall      
ProPublica   

Also reported in: Sky Valley Chronicle Logoand Rock River Times logo

William Emanuel has recused himself from ruling on disputes involving his former law firm’s clients — but then used unrelated cases as vehicles to help Republican colleagues accomplish the same thing.

Former Obama NLRB member Sharon Block agreed. “Deciding a case in a way the parties didn’t ask you to decide it seems to me inevitably to raise the question: Why are you doing this?” said Block, who now heads the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Emanuel having clients that actually had made that request — at the very least that creates a huge appearance problem.”

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HOW THE LABOR MOVEMENT IS THINKING AHEAD TO A POST-TRUMP WORLD

January 21, 2018

by Rachel M. Cohen
The Intercept

THE AMERICAN LABOR movement, over the past four decades, has had two golden opportunities to shift the balance of power between workers and bosses — first in 1978, with unified Democratic control of Washington, and again in 2009. Both times, the unions came close and fell short, leading, in no small part, to the precarious situation labor finds itself in today.

[Sharon] Block, the former lawyer to Kennedy in the Senate [current Executive Director, LPW], doesn’t think Obama’s lackluster advocacy really made much of a difference. In fact, she said, some version of EFCA probably would have gotten through, but the final blow came when Senate Democrats lost 60 votes following Kennedy’s death. When the Massachusetts Democrat died of brain cancer in August 2009, he was succeeded by Republican Sen. Scott Brown, and the filibuster majority was no more, and EFCA never came up for a vote again. 

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