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A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

August 1, 2018

Harvard Labor and Worklife conference starts up a journey toward systemic reform, economic equality

By BRETT MILANO
Harvard law Today

Last month, Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program began an ambitious effort to fix a broken system of labor laws. The program, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law,” began with a daylong seminar at Wasserstein Hall. It will continue with a series of followup meetings over the next eighteen months, with the goal of producing major recommendations to reform labor law.

Attendees came from across the country, including law professors, labor activists, and union and online organizers. Because Chatham House rules were invoked for the event, none of the panelists will be identified or quoted; Block explained that this allowed for a freer exchange of ideas.

Co-organizers Sharon Block, executive director of HLS’s Labor and Worklife Program, and Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry and faculty co-director of the Labor and Worklife Program, said that some significant work was begun.... Read more about A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

Jenny Lau

Jenny Lau

Director of Programs & Outreach

Jenny Lau is the Director of Programs and Outreach at the Labor and Worklife Program, where she advances creative problem solving related to the world of work through program administration and strategic communications. Prior to joining the Labor and Worklife Program in 2018, Jenny advanced women in national and local politics through strategic grant-making and directive research at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation/Political Office and then as the Director of Scheduling and Special Projects at the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Jenny began her career in politics and labor at the Chinese Progressive Association, where she engaged voters through targeted campaigns and organized immigrant workers around workplace issues as the Civic Action and Worker Center Organizer.... Read more about Jenny Lau

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Trump Nominee Is Mastermind of Anti-Union Legal Campaign

Trump Nominee Is Mastermind of Anti-Union Legal Campaign

July 18, 2018

By Noam Scheiber
NY Times

Jonathan F. Mitchell, a conservative lawyer, is the lead counsel in several lawsuits against public-employee unions.

After the 2016 election, he served as a volunteer attorney on the Trump transition team, where he helped review future executive orders. In September, the president nominated him to head the Administrative Conference of the United States, a small federal agency that advises the government on improving its inner workings. His nomination awaits action by the Senate after the Judiciary Committee approved him on a party-line vote in March.

Ms. Block said the court’s decision last month indicated that the conservative majority might rule that the fees should be refunded retroactively. The decision referred to the fees as a “considerable windfall that unions have received,” adding, “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers.”

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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 workers...

Read more about The Kavanaugh Nomination and Labor
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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...

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