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Series One: Many Roads to Quality Work • Issue Two: Amplifying Workers’ Voices in an Evolving Economy - Invested

May 23, 2018

Representation
Sharon Block is invterviewed by Suzanne Cummings
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Understanding the vital importance of strength in numbers to rights and representation, labor unions have served as the central outlet for worker voice in the United States since the New Deal Era. For generations, unions sought to protect and advance workers' right to a safe and fair work environment. While some union organizations remain strong and active today, overall union membership has dropped in the U.S. over the past few decades even as recent surveys show interest growing among nonunion workers in joining unions. Our opening section in this issue on worker voice digs into the reasons for and results of these changing dynamics, and explores how unions are evolving and building new connections within a radically different economy today.

"Union density in this country is now lower than it was before workers had a protected right to join unions. That says to me that there’s something pretty fundamental not working in our law." Sharon Block... Read more about Series One: Many Roads to Quality Work • Issue Two: Amplifying Workers’ Voices in an Evolving Economy - Invested

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Knight: Workers’ ‘day in court’ axed in Court’s arbitration ruling

June 9, 2018

By Bill Knight / Opinion columnist
Pekin Daily Times

 

A U.S. Supreme Court majority on May 21 unleashed employers to run roughshod over labor law, ruling 5-4 that employers can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and other workplace disputes. The Court’s five-justice conservative bloc said employers may require employees, as a condition of employment, to give up any joint legal remedy despite of the guarantee of New Deal laws stating that workers have a right to unionize or “engage in other concerted activities for the purposes...

Read more about Knight: Workers’ ‘day in court’ axed in Court’s arbitration ruling
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Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Workers

May 21, 2018

By Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block
New York Times Opinion

Federal labor law protects the right of workers to join together to improve their conditions, whether through a union or other means. But the court has now carved out a big exception to that longstanding principle. In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the court said that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to bar workers from joining forces in legal actions over problems in the workplace. In other words, workers who are underpaid, harassed or discriminated against will have to press their cases alone in arbitration, rather than with their colleagues in a class-action case, or even with their own lawsuit.

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Regulate With Prejudice? Joint Employer Issue Tests Board Process

May 14, 2018

by Chris Opfer
Bloomberg Law

The board announced last week that it will issue a regulation to resolve the ongoing debate over when one business is a joint employer of another’s workers for unionization purposes. That question has been clouded by conflicting decisions—the board briefly reverted to a more restrictive approach to joint employment and then dropped the ruling—and conflict-of-interest concerns.

“We know where they want to get to now because of the decision in Hy-Brand,” former NLRB Member Sharon Block (D) told Bloomberg Law. “They appear to be using the rulemaking process to do an end run around conflict-of-interest problems.”

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Inside the Labor Department’s Legal Brain Drain

May 11, 2018

by Ben Penn
Bloomberg Law

A century-plus of combined legal expertise is leaving the Labor Department, setting up four key vacancies in an office with unheralded influence on the administration’s workplace agenda.

The DOL’s associate solicitors for employment and training (Jeffrey Nesvet), occupational safety and health (Ann Rosenthal), and administrative law and ethics (Robert Shapiro), along with the New England regional solicitor (Michael Felsen), are either about to retire or recently did so—all after lengthy careers in the senior civil service....

“Those are four people who have been involved in every important decision in their areas for decades. It’s a tremendous loss,” Sharon Block, who was a senior counselor to Obama’s Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, told Bloomberg Law. “All of us who were there as politicals relied so heavily on the career leadership to provide just that straight up advice on what the law is and what the history of these issues has been, without being outcome-determined in how that information was presented.”... Read more about Inside the Labor Department’s Legal Brain Drain

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Breached Podcast on Employment

April 25, 2018

This episode explores what a social contract of employment looks like, given the changing nature of work in the 21st century economy. We hear from Tom Kochan, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management; Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Steven Pedigo, an assistant professor at the NYU School of Professional Studies; and Sharon Block, Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

[Listen to Podcast]
More information on Podcast Series at  OnLabor logo

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Senate Bill to Curtail Labor Rights on Tribal Land Falls Short

April 16, 2018

By Noam Scheiber
New York TImes

Organized labor managed an increasingly rare feat on Monday — a political victory — when its allies turned back a Senate measure aimed at rolling back labor rights on tribal lands.

The legislation, called the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, would have exempted enterprises owned and operated by Native American tribes from federal labor standards, even for employees who were not tribal citizens.

“It’s a very, very troubling step at a moment when we should be doing everything we can to try to protect people’s collective rights and when there are so many people who feel so disempowered in this economy,” said Sharon Block, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

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For some minor league baseball players, wages can seem like peanuts

April 5, 2018

By Mitchell Hartman
Marketplace

In 2014, Broshuis brought a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the baseball owners. The goal was to force the teams to follow the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and pay players as hourly workers, including for all hours of play and practice.

 

Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and an Obama administration appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, said that because many minor league players are paid such a low salary — in some cases working out to less than minimum wage for all the hours worked — their lawsuit should proceed.

“We are talking about paying people $7.25 per hour, and time-and-a half when they work over forty hours. These are just bedrock principles of minimum standards,” Block said. And she said that not paying players during spring training flies in the face of other labor law precedent. “Generally, if you are in training and it is for the employer’s benefit, meaning you’re learning to do your job better, you have to be compensated.”... Read more about For some minor league baseball players, wages can seem like peanuts

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Punching In: Confirmation Process Picks Up Steam

April 9, 2018

By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn

 

 When news of the proposed settlement in the McDonald’s joint employment case broke last week, some folks might have assumed we accidentally dropped a zero from the $170,000 that Mickey D’s is offering a group of workers to resolve their unfair labor practice complaints. Surely, the chance to resolve one of the biggest cases in the labor and employment space without risking a ruling that McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees of franchise restaurant workers could fetch a bigger price tag?

“It sounds like they’re getting off awfully cheap,” former NLRB member Sharon Block (D) told me of the settlement.... Read more about Punching In: Confirmation Process Picks Up Steam

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Equal Pay For Women: Why The U.S. Needs To Catch Up On Data Disclosure And Transparency

April 10, 2018

Alison Omens , Contributor
co-authored by Sharon Block
Forbes

The United States has fallen behind on equal pay. According to JUST Capital’s 2017 Rankings, 78 of the 875 largest publicly-traded U.S. companies have conducted pay equity analyses, while only 54 have established a policy, as well as targets, for diversity and equal opportunity – that’s 9% and 6% of these corporations, respectively. When it comes to pay equity, corporations in the U.S. are not beholden to the same rules as those in other nations, and are lagging when it comes to equal pay for women.

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Labor Board Official Parries Criticism on ‘No-Plan’ Plan

April 4, 2018

Hassan A. Kanu
Bloomberg Law

 

The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel is standing firm on a series of proposals to restructure the agency starting next year even as concern within the NLRB about the plans is said to have reached a boiling point.

Peter Robb refused to withdraw the proposals per a request from the union representing agency staffers at headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to a letter obtained by Bloomberg Law. Although Congress kept the board’s funding steady this year, Robb noted that the White House budget request for next year is “well below” the current allotment.

 

“He seems to be doubling down on the budget rationale, but it just doesn’t ring true that the president’s budget would drive these kinds of changes in a practical sense,” Block said. “If he’s got other reasons, then he should tell people what those reasons are.”

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Minor League Baseball players are latest victims of anti-worker Trump and GOP

March 29, 2018

Sharon Block, Opinion contributor
USA Today

Congress just killed workplace protections for underpaid minor league baseball players. Notch another win for the 1% under Republicans and Donald Trump. 

The team owners who make up Major League Baseball had spent more than two years and more than $1 million lobbying Congress and the White House to exempt themselves from having to pay minor league players minimum wage and overtime.

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