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Foundations and Donors Step Up Grants to Help Workers Hurt by the Pandemic

April 14, 2020

By Alex Daniels
Chronicle of Philanthropy

In the coronavirus era, the heroes drive delivery trucks, bag groceries, and clean hospital floors. As those employees have stayed on the job, risking their lives to ensure others can stay comfortable in seclusion, a new movement is underway to help those workers.

Foundations that have long supported labor groups are stepping up their funding and recruiting others to join a movement that some experts think could lead to sweeping policy changes.

The Clean Slate for Worker Power at Harvard University Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, for instance, used grants from the Ford, Hewlett, Kellogg, and Public Welfare foundations to produce a 130-page set of policy recommendations that would help worker groups generate revenue, provide better or portable health coverage for workers, and require that 40 percent of corporate board seats are chosen by workers, among other things.

Sharon Block, the program’s executive director, says the project will continue to flesh out a labor agenda.

"We are not going to alleviate the pain that so many workers are in tomorrow," she says. "What we want to do is provide source material for groups that are trying to make systemic change. We want to provide some of the answers."... Read more about Foundations and Donors Step Up Grants to Help Workers Hurt by the Pandemic

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

April 17, 2020

By John Nichols
The Nation

Mid mounting frustration with the extent to which the president has been able to frame the discourse about Covid-19 and its consequences, some of the savviest thinkers about politics and governing have been asking, as Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout did recently, “Where is Congress during a deadly pandemic?” Her answer: “They should be in session every day. Remotely.”

So the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is stepping up to show how it can—and should—be done. Next Thursday, April 23, the CPC will convene the first in a series of remote congressional hearings to highlight bold and necessary proposals for responding to the pandemic and to the economic crisis that has developed as a result. 

Organized along the lines of a traditional House hearing, the “Preventing Layoffs” hearing will be chaired by Pocan and Jayapal and feature expert testimony from Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, and Amanda Ballantyne, the director of the Main Street Alliance, a group that advocates for small businesses.

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Don’t let Big Gig game the system

April 18, 2020

SHARON BLOCK and  MIKE FIRESTONE
Commonwealth Magazine

IN ITS SWEEPING RESPONSE to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress threw a financial lifeline to millions of Americans and made so-called “gig economy” workers, like Uber drivers, eligible for unemployment assistance for the first time. But the economic crisis begs the question why Uber drivers weren’t eligible already.

The answer is simple. It’s because, unlike other Massachusetts businesses, Uber doesn’t pay unemployment insurance to cover its workers or extend them other crucial protections, and the major gig-economy companies (we’ll call them Big Gig) fight every effort to require it. This opposition left millions of workers without a safety net when the bottom fell out of our economy.

It’s time to update state law to require Big Gig platforms for driving, delivery, and other app-based services to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, sick time, minimum wage, and paid leave, just like any other business in Massachusetts – regardless of how they classify their workers.... Read more about Don’t let Big Gig game the system

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Coronavirus may bring a labor reckoning for Amazon

April 8, 2020

Maya Shwayder
Digital Trends

coronavirus pandemic bring about the labor reckoning that activists have been seeking?" data-reactid="33" type="text"> With pressure on mega-retailers like Amazon to deliver essential goods to people stuck at home — coupled with increased scrutiny over labor practices and a long-simmering labor movement that has been nipping at the heels of these huge suppliers — could this coronavirus pandemic bring about the labor reckoning that activists have been seeking?

“It should,” said Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “I certainly hope that one of the lessons we’ll learn from this horrible experience is how important so many low-wage workers are, and how precarious their positions are.”... Read more about Coronavirus may bring a labor reckoning for Amazon

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How Trump Could Dismantle Workers’ Rights with Another Four Years

April 8, 2020

by Rachel Cohen
Washington Monthly

From the perspective of the liberal policy establishment, Donald Trump has launched an aggressive and unprecedented assault on workers’ rights and the labor movement. From the perspective of the right, Trump has governed on labor almost exactly as any other Republican president might have.

If Trump’s first term was focused on making it tougher for workers to unionize, both conservatives and liberal policy wonks agree that a second term would likely mean more attention directed toward regulating gig workers. Generally, gig workers—like Uber drivers—aren’t afforded the protections of traditional employees, like minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, and the right to join a union. Increasingly, though, labor advocates are building a case that many of these workers have been shortchanged; they’re functionally employees and should be protected as such.... Read more about How Trump Could Dismantle Workers’ Rights with Another Four Years

How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

April 7, 2020

BY SHARON BLOCK AND TERRI GERSTEIN
The Hill

An unprecedented 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance across the country over the last two weeks with more likely to come. Many employers are responding to shutdown orders, lack of cash flow, and the crisis by laying people off. Leaders have enacted measures to encourage employers to avoid more layoffs, such as conditioning business loans on maintaining payroll and providing tax credits for payroll expenses.

Instead of laying off, for instance, half of the workforce, a company would decrease the hours of its employees by half. These workers would then be paid for 50 percent of their time and would receive unemployment compensation for the other 50 percent. More than two dozen states already have working sharing programs up and running, along the broad political spectrum, from California to Nebraska.

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With strikes and a ‘sick out,’ some grocery and delivery workers take defiant stance: One-time bonuses, temporary pay hikes aren’t enough

March 31, 2020

Melissa Repko and Annie Palmer
CNBC

In recent weeks, tensions are on the rise between grocery workers and their employers, spurring many to take public action. Employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods planned a “sick out” Tuesday, while some drivers who deliver Whole Foods groceries are calling for more protections. Thousands of people have signed an online petition circulated by Trader Joe’s employees. On Monday, some Instacart workers held a nationwide strike. And a major grocery union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is advocating for workers to have access to coronavirus testing and protective gear.

Grocers don’t have the depths of experience dealing with dangerous work, said Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Obama advisor.

“Whether the law requires it or not, this is just a moment that it’s incredibly important for employers to listen to their workers,” she said. “It’s very concerning that there are a lot of really life-and-death decisions being made and so few workers have the ability to be part of the decision that drives those answers.”... Read more about With strikes and a ‘sick out,’ some grocery and delivery workers take defiant stance: One-time bonuses, temporary pay hikes aren’t enough

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Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block: When Did Labor Law Stop Working?

March 30, 2020

Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block
Ask a Professor Podcast
Harvard Magazine 

WHY WOULD IT TAKE AN AMAZON WORKER, employed full time, more than a million years to earn what its CEO, Jeff Bezos now possesses? Why do the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than all African-American households combined? And how are these examples of extreme income inequality linked to the political disenfranchisement of the lower- and middle-income classes? The established “solutions” for restoring balance to economic and political power in the United States have...

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Why American Workers Have Been Left Out of Our Life-and-Death Decision-Making

March 30, 2020

By Sharon Block
The American Prospect

For too many American workers, this crisis is happening to them, not with them. With only approximately 6 percent of the American private-sector workforce in unions, the vast majority of workers have no voice in the decisions that businesses are making in response to the pandemic.

Our laws fail to ensure that workers have an adequate voice in important decisions that affect their lives. The current crisis highlights the ways that our labor law leaves workers out of these critical conversations.... Read more about Why American Workers Have Been Left Out of Our Life-and-Death Decision-Making

Ben Sachs and Sharon Block at Clean Slate Launch

Harvard Law’s Labor and Worklife Program releases major report aimed at reforming American labor law

January 23, 2020

By Liz Mineo/Harvard Staff Writer
Labor Law Today

Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program released a set of sweeping recommendations to fundamentally rewrite U.S. labor laws and help shift the balance of power in this country back into the hands of working people. Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program, and ...

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Google Salary-Sharing Spreadsheets Are All The Rage. Here's What You Should Know.

January 17, 2020

By Monica Torres
Huffpost

Workers across a number of industries are creating their own widely shared salary databases, with employees anonymously entering their earnings for all to see. Adding salary info to these lists usually works like this: Through a Google Form, individuals enter information anonymously about their salary and organization, usually with the option to include years of experience, geographic location, race, gender and sexual orientation, as well as industry-specific information such as awards, worker injuries incurred or billable hours.

You may worry about getting into trouble if you share your salary on a public spreadsheet. But discussing wages is allowed and protected in the U.S. for people who are employees protected under The National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA allows employees “to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

“People who are employees, treated as employees, have been able to assert their right as employees. In circulating this spreadsheet, they are acting concertedly, they are joining with their co-workers to say we think pay transparency is important,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “They cannot be fired for that. The law says they have a right to act concertedly.”

Can California rein in tech’s gig platforms? A primer on the bold state law that will try.

Can California rein in tech’s gig platforms? A primer on the bold state law that will try.

January 14, 2020

By Eli Rosenberg 
Washington Post

A new law in California seeks to rewrite the rules of work and what it means to be an employee.

Known informally as the gig-economy bill, or AB5, the legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, seeking to compel all companies ― but notably those like Lyft and Uber ― to treat more of their workforce like employees. 

Tech companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash and Instacart have joined forces — and pocketbooks — to sponsor a $110 million ballot initiative that would formally exempt them from the law. 

“States should hold off in the face of all these challenges that have emerged in California,” said Maria Figueroa, director of labor and policy research at the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. “The ideal situation would be for other states to come up with legislation that would be narrow enough in terms of its parameters to cover platform workers …[but] would enable these states to avoid these challenges."

Others see the opposition in the terms of greed.

“We are in this place because we have these really big companies that will put tens of millions up for the right to deny basic protections for workers,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

Respecting the Right to Strike at Harvard

Respecting the Right to Strike at Harvard

December 16, 2019

by Sharon Block, Benjamin Sachs and Laura Weinrib
OnLabor Blog

According to the Crimson, Harvard has circulated an email advising departments seeking to hire spring teaching fellows (and other student workers) to include certain language in job postings and offer letters. The Crimson reports that the email “recommends departments include a provision in postings and offer letters that conditions teaching fellow positions on whether candidates can commit to a start...

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Reddy, Rukmini

Rukmini Reddy

Coordinator, Labor Organization Innovation Initiative

Rukmini Reddy manages the Labor Organization Innovation Initiative’s strategic planning, pilots, partnerships, and day-to-day operations.

Prior to joining the Labor and Worklife team, Rukmini was Manager of New Profit’s Early Learning Fund, where she built community among early education practitioners and leaders, oversaw investment selection processes, and provided strategic support to the rapidly scaling organizations within the fund. Before joining New Profit, Rukmini engaged in research, data analysis, and project management to produce actionable recommendations for mission-driven organizations as a Consulting Research Associate at Root Cause, a nonprofit research and consulting firm. She also supported strategic initiatives at Root Cause, including the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Learning Collaborative. Rukmini started her career as a Site Coordinator for LIFT in Chicago, where she managed a community resource center where undergraduate and graduate student volunteers worked one-on-one with individuals from low-income communities to find employment, secure housing, access public benefits, and obtain referrals for services like childcare and healthcare.... Read more about Rukmini Reddy

p: (617) 496-6253
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More and more workers are taking advantage of informal activism

November 8, 2019

Meghan McCarty Carino
Marketplace

According to Michelle Miller, co-founder of Coworker.org — a non-profit that helps workers organize online — this trend of informal worker activism is spreading.

Coworker has helped workers from baristas to grocery clerks demand change on matters as varied as family leave policies and workplace tattoo or beard bans.

According to Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard Law School, informal actions like WeWork’s have the potential to address issues more quickly than...

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