Clean Slate

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Uber, Lyft Shares Jump as Companies Win Vote Over Drivers

November 4, 2020

Lizette Chapman
Bloomberg News

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. jumped in U.S. premarket trading Wednesday after California voters approved a measure (Proposition 22) to protect the companies’ business models from efforts to reclassify their drivers in the state as employees.

“This could be seen as a shot across the bow,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Everybody’s looking at California.”Under the new law, gig companies have agreed to provide some new protections to California workers, including a guaranteed wage for time spent driving and a health insurance stipend, but does not include paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and other standard protections afforded under California labor laws.... Read more about Uber, Lyft Shares Jump as Companies Win Vote Over Drivers

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It’s Women’s Work

October 15, 2020

By Sharon Block
Moyers on Democracy

The September unemployment numbers provided a lot of bad news for the economy overall: decreasing rate of new jobs being created, rising number of permanent layoffs and a persistently high unemployment rate. The most shocking number from September’s report, however, was the number of women who left the labor market. More than 800,000 women have given up trying to find a job. During the pandemic recession, women’s labor force participation – the percentage of women holding jobs or looking for jobs – is lower than at any point since the late 1980’s. That marks a generation of progress lost in just six months.... Read more about It’s Women’s Work

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Labor Law Must Include All Workers

September 22, 2020

Sharon Block & Benjamin Sachs
American Compass

Inclusion is a necessary first step toward fixing America’s broken labor law system.

In January of this year, we published a comprehensive set of recommendations for reforming U.S. labor law. Although the recommendations were extensive, the theory that lay behind them was straightforward: our country is facing dual crises of political and economic inequality, and we can help address those crises by giving working people greater collective power in the economy and in politics. Although progressives and conservatives disagree on many things, we all ought to agree that the stark inequalities that now pervade American life constitute grave threats. Politically, the viability of our democracy is threatened by a government that responds to the views of the wealthy but not to those of the poor and middle class. Economically, the viability of our community life is threatened by the fact that that we live in a country where it would take an Amazon worker 3.8 million years, working full time, to earn what Jeff Bezos alone now possesses.

... Read more about Labor Law Must Include All Workers

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Like many US workers, Trump staff has little recourse if asked to work alongside sick colleagues

October 7, 2020

Matthew Rozsa
Salon

What do workers do when the person responsible for enforcing worker safety laws turns a blind eye to his own staff?

The case of meatpacking employees may end up being comparable to the situation in the White House. Sharon Block, the Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, explained that workers at meatpacking plants "were told to continue to show up for work even as their coworkers were testing positive in high numbers and even dying." "As different as these workplaces may seem, the dynamic is similar — especially for the non-partisan staff in the White House, many of whom are people of color who are not highly paid. Because of the failures of the Trump Administration and their political objectives, workers' health and lives are needlessly being put at risk."... Read more about Like many US workers, Trump staff has little recourse if asked to work alongside sick colleagues

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What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

September 22, 2020

By Hamilton Nolan
In These Times
Unions hope a Biden presidency will reverse decades of anti-worker policies.

Amer­i­ca is in cri­sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme­di­ate crises — the pan­dem­ic and the unem­ploy­ment and the eco­nom­ic col­lapse and the death spi­ral of var­i­ous pub­lic insti­tu­tions — have lent the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion an air of emer­gency. For work­ing peo­ple in Amer­i­ca, though, the emer­gency is noth­ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec­tion is every­thing. 

“It’s critical that in the new administration, labor doesn’t just get siloed: ‘What’s the thing we can do to make the unions happy?’ It’s got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.” —Sharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration.
... Read more about What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

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Trump’s National Labor Relations Board Is Sabotaging Its Own Mission

September 7, 2020

By Michelle Chen
The Nation

The shortcomings of the NLRB are to some degree baked into its structure. The act, a compromise between labor and management, forced companies to bargain with unions, but it also excluded whole categories of workers, such as farm laborers, and effectively limited collective bargaining to individual companies, not whole industries or sectors.

Sharon Block, the director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and an NLRB member under Obama, said that during the pandemic, it was “incumbent on worker protection agencies like the [NLRB]…to be exceptionally vigilant on behalf of workers and attuned to violations of their rights, because it is so hard to feel secure enough to speak out. [But] this is a board that we watched operate for three years in a way that would not give that kind of security to workers.”

Nonetheless, she added, the systemic problems with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act go beyond the Trump administration. “Even with board members…and a general counsel with the best of intentions who really believe in the spirit and the purpose of the act, it’s just a tool that doesn’t work anymore.”... Read more about Trump’s National Labor Relations Board Is Sabotaging Its Own Mission

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What Rights Do Workers Have As The Economy Reopens?

September 30, 2020

Interviewer: Robin Young
Here &Now, National Public Radio

More than seven months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, large segments of the economy are reopening. That includes businesses, offices and restaurants, as well as entertainment and cultural institutions like museums and cinemas.

But what are the rights of the people who will be working there? Can they decide not to work if they feel unsafe? And what protections are employers required to provide?

Sharon Block is executive director of the Labor and...

Read more about What Rights Do Workers Have As The Economy Reopens?
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How COVID-19 has changed the workplace in 2020

September 8, 2020

Kim Wright
Harvard Law Today

Labor Day looked different this year. COVID-19 has changed how we work and, for some of us, where we work from. It has also highlighted the importance of workplace rights and the longstanding problem of childcare for working families.

Harvard Law Today recently corresponded with 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, about COVID-19’s continued impact on the workplace, worker’s rights to a safe and healthy work environment, and the importance of unions in the time of social distancing and telework. The Labor and Worklife Program has addressed many of these issues and offered recommendations for empowering workers in two recent reports—Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy and Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response.

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Why empowering frontline workers is a key element to a safe reopening

August 18, 2020

By Sharon Block and Rachel Korberg
Fortune 

Workers have a key role to play in designing and implementing new, on-the-job health practices—and even more so in the absence of enforceable federal standards. If they aren’t able to speak up when they spot a problem, we risk prolonging this crisis, deepening the economic pain, and ultimately losing more lives. 

MIT research has shown that companies with empowered frontline staff who have trusting, collaborative relationships with management are better at quickly identifying challenges and developing and implementing new solutions. This makes intuitive sense—workers know better than anyone how to do their jobs best, what risks they face, and how to solve problems in the workplace. 

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From elevator etiquette to break room buddies, your burning questions about a return to work

August 6, 2020
By Ben Popken
NBC News

Only 47 percent of employees said improved safety measures would make them feel comfortable returning to the office, according to a recent survey.

“OSHA is supposed to protect workers. All they’ve done is issue suggestions and voluntary guidance,” to employers,” said Sharon Block, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and current executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

OSHA has “turned everything over to employers to inspect themselves,” Block said. “If workers can’t rely on the federal government to stand up for them, they have to stand up for themselves.” Some workers have been fired for speaking up about conditions, she said.

OSHA didn’t respond to an NBC News request for comment.

Block recommended that concerned employees should document conditions at work and, if they feel unsafe, workers can consider leaving and filing for unemployment, using the unsafe conditions as justification.

“But the employer can fight it, and then the employee is in a legal fight with their employer while trying to put food on the table,” she said.... Read more about From elevator etiquette to break room buddies, your burning questions about a return to work

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The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy

July 31, 2020

by Adam Shah
Inequality.org

Members of the One Percent, such as former restaurateur Andrew Puzder, have urged Congress to not renew the $600 a week unemployment supplement Congress enacted as part of the CARES Act. They argue, in Puzder’s words, that “this $600 per week bonus is discouraging work” for low-wage earners.

No one receiving unemployment benefits will make themselves rich on unemployment. The $600 is not a huge incentive to stay home.  Even in the states with higher base benefits, the minimum unemployment benefits plus the supplement, leave unemployed people earning less than a living wage far below the U.S. median income.

But working people need more than enforced protections for union organizing, we need their voices and expertise at the center of the  Coronavirus recession recovery efforts. Harvard Law School’s Clean Slate for Worker Power project and the Roosevelt Institute have put forward detailed proposals on how to include worker voices during the Covid-19 recovery.... Read more about The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy

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SAFEGUARDING EMPLOYEE HEALTH WHILE RETURNING TO WORK

July 28, 2020

by Duke Today Staff
in Duke Today

Employees planning a return to their workplaces face a series of obstacles thanks in part to failures by the federal government, three experts said recently during a panel discussion at Duke. The July 9 panel was part of the Duke University Initiative for Science and Society's ongoing “Coronavirus Conversations” series. 

Panel participant Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, added that “every workplace [should] have a safety monitor who can provide information and confidential advice to workers about their right to a safe workplace.” 

“There are no OSHA regulations specific to coronavirus transmission,” Ms. Block says.  “In the past,” she said, OSHA has “looked at CDC guidance and said to employers, this is the best thing that we know … in short order about how to protect workers. So we're going to enforce CDC guidance.”

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The second wave of essential workers

July 21, 2020

Erica Pandey
Axios

"With most of the country reopening — whether it's safe or not — workers in so many occupations are put in the untenable position of having to choose between being able to sustain their families or putting their health at risk," says Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and work-life program at Harvard Law School.

Teachers are under tremendous pressure as some cities and states push forward on reopening schools.

... Read more about The second wave of essential workers

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'We Need Help': People At Higher Coronavirus Risk Fear Losing Federal Unemployment

July 7, 2020

Chris Arnold
All Things Considered

Many people with underlying medical conditions are worried about what's going to happen at the end of the month. It's not currently safe for many of them to go back to work. The COVID-19 death rate is 12 times higher for people with underlying conditions.

Block says the added federal benefits are needed for unemployed workers in general — but especially for those with serious underlying health conditions.

"They're very, very vulnerable to retaliation for speaking out when it's this kind of labor market," she says. "Most workers have to be afraid that an employer could very easily replace them if they make trouble."

Block's program at Harvard just released a report on what state officials can do to require mandatory rules to make workplaces safer. She says the focus is on what states can do because so far there are basically no federal mandatory safety workplace requirements for the pandemic.... Read more about 'We Need Help': People At Higher Coronavirus Risk Fear Losing Federal Unemployment

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How the American Worker Got Fleeced

July 3, 2020

Story by Josh Eidelson
Data analysis and graphics by Christopher Cannon
Bloomberg Businessweek

For Americans with a less fancy résumé than the typical physician or Google engineer, the coronavirus has exacerbated an already dire lack of employment security. A great many essential workers have been growing, picking, tending, slaughtering, packing, preparing, and delivering food throughout the country without paid sick days. While other countries moved quickly to backstop payrolls and freeze their economies more or less in place, the U.S. let 40 million people go unemployed and has kept many of them waiting months for temporary assistance.

In January, Harvard Law School’s Labor & Worklife Program, following a year of discussions among ­working groups of activists and scholars, released a sweeping proposal to reboot labor law from a “clean slate,” including by ending at-will employment, installing elected “workplace monitors” in every U.S. workplace, and establishing a “sectoral bargaining” process à la Europe. Advocates say such a system, in which labor and management hash out industry­wide standards, would help fix one of the flaws baked into the NLRA: As long as collective bargaining rights are limited to the individual companies where workers have won a unionization election, executives have an overwhelming incentive to fight like hell to stop that from happening, and they have cause to fear they’ll be outcompeted by lower-cost rivals if they don’t.

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