Enforcement Project

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Railroad Companies Almost Inflicted an Economic Disaster on the U.S.

September 15, 2022

BY TERRI GERSTEIN AND JENNY HUNTER
Slate

All because they chose profits over humane working policies.

In the end, railroad companies are highly complex operations with extremely sophisticated logistics. It’s not plausible that it’s an unsolvable challenge for them to find a way for workers to take unpaid unscheduled leave for urgent reasons without penalizing them, which is perhaps why they ultimately made concessions. Maybe it was hard for companies to look Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in the face and say they just couldn’t figure it out.

Meanwhile, as we breathe a sigh of relief that there will not be a strike or lockout on Friday, we should remember what this fight is really about: the persistent difficulty some large corporations have in understanding that their workers are human beings, and not just one more piece of machinery.

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The Role of State Attorneys General in Protecting Workers’ Rights

September 4, 2022

Terri Gerstein
American Constitution Society

State Attorneys General (AGs) are playing an increasingly visible and important role in relation to workers’ rights. Although historically AGs have not been deeply involved in labor matters, since 2015, AG action in this area has mushroomed: ten states have dedicated labor units of various kinds, several jurisdictions have passed legislation granting state AGs expanded jurisdiction allowing them to address labor violations, and many AGs have brought cases to enforce workers’ basic rights.

As the midterms approach, with AG elections occurring in 30 states plus the District of Columbia, it is important to understand not only what AGs do in general, but also what they are doing and can do to protect our country’s workers.

Some state AGs have begun to play an increasingly visible and important role in protecting workers’ rights. On Labor Day 2022, it is worth celebrating this growing trend, while also noting the tremendous untapped potential that remains for more AGs to take up these issues in a pro-worker and constructive manner.... Read more about The Role of State Attorneys General in Protecting Workers’ Rights

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The Real Victims of Cancel Culture Are America’s Workers

September 5, 2022

BY TERRI GERSTEIN
Employees are all too readily fired just for speaking out about conditions at work.

Employers commonly take drastic measures to cancel workers who speak out virtually every day. Two household names—Amazon and Starbucks—have been among the most visible companies quashing worker expression in recent months. Amazon fired former warehouse worker and now Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls for organizing a protest about workplace safety during the height of New York’s first COVID-19 wave. The company later called the police on Smalls when he delivered pizza to former co-workers in a break room. More recently, Amazon called the police to deal with union organizers at its Albany, New York, warehouse.

But for those expressing deep concern about silencing of people’s voices, for those who genuinely hold a core belief in free expression, Labor Day should be their holiday, too. It’s high time for everyone who cares about free speech to fight for the people most frequently and all too easily canceled for speaking up: our country’s workers.

While Fighting Workers, Railroads Made Over $10 Billion in Stock Buybacks – Kenny Stancil

September 22, 2022

WSW Staff
Wall Street Window

At the same time they have fought to deny sick days and other vital benefits to workers in the freight industry, rail carrier executives have been rewarding shareholders with billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividend bumps.

Last week, labor lawyer Jenny Hunter and Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, argued in Slate that railroad companies nearly inflicted an economic catastrophe on the U.S. because they chose profit-maximization over humane workplace policies.... Read more about While Fighting Workers, Railroads Made Over $10 Billion in Stock Buybacks – Kenny Stancil

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How do gig workers fit into the rest of today’s labor force?

August 31, 2022

David Brancaccio and Jarrett Dang
Marketplace Morning Report

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It’s valuable to realize at the outset of the conversation that what states are grappling with, from California to Massachusetts, everywhere, it’s not just in relation to gig workers, it’s also in relation to this broader issue of who’s an employee, and entitled to all of the protections that our social contract and our laws have said that employers have to follow, and who’s an independent contractor and really running their own business. 

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Arbitration Use by Employers Up as High Court Affirms Validity

August 24, 2022

Stephen Joyce
Bloomberg Law

States’ attempts to ensure employees can take their workplace disputes to court are seeing their efforts chipped away by the US Supreme Court.

The US Supreme Court has consistently held employers can enforce individual arbitration agreements as well as class action language prohibiting an employee class from launching a collective complaint through arbitration against an employer.

The arbitration-friendly rulings have led more employers to use the agreements in an attempt to mitigate exposures to expensive jury-trial...

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It’s Time to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage

August 2, 2022

Terri Gerstein
The Progressive Magazine

Inflation is a big problem these days. Prices are rising for everything from bacon to rent to hotel rooms. And while the Federal Reserve announced aggressive measures to curb costs last week, not all economists believe this is the best approach for helping working people. 

One thing is clear: rising wages aren’t responsible for recent inflation. In fact, wage growth has actually lagged behind inflation rates, dampening upward pressure on prices. 

The lingering low federal minimum wage drags down...

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Federal Inaction, Local Action: Local Governments Tackle Labor Issues

July 19, 2022

Mark Kreidler
American Prospect

Creation of permanent local offices of labor standards is a new frontier for municipalities, something that didn’t exist before because, by and large, it didn’t need to. Times have changed.

“Municipality by municipality isn’t ideally how you would do this. In the ideal, you’d have a Congress that protects workers and honors the will of the majority,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. “But at the same time, these are ways to...

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How Local Governments Are Advancing Workers’ Rights, and Why Even More Should Get Involved

June 28, 2022

Terri Gerstein and LiJia Gong
Route Fifty

There’s a notable surge of action by cities and other localities in advancing workers’ rights, as documented in a report we wrote that was issued recently. Some cities and counties are now seeing worker protection as one of their core functions. 

More cities and localities should become champions for the working people in their jurisdictions. Local leaders—from mayors and city councilors to agency heads and longtime civil servant managers—should consider how they can use their powers to drive workplace justice....

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In Massachusetts, a Limit on Gig Companies’ Deceptions

June 17, 2022

Terrie Gerstein
American Prospect

On Tuesday, the highest court in Massachusetts struck down a ballot initiative that would have come before voters in November. The initiative, funded by such gig companies as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, sought to designate workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Many Bay State voters doubtless heaved a sigh of relief: Now they won’t face the overblown, misleading campaign that 2020 California voters encountered in those companies’ campaign for Proposition 22, a similar initiative. More importantly, Tuesday’s court decision means that workers’ rights will remain protected in Massachusetts for the near future.... Read more about In Massachusetts, a Limit on Gig Companies’ Deceptions

Terri Gerstein and LiJia Gong. 6/13/2022. The role of local government in protecting workers’ rights. Economic Policy Institute and Labor and Worklife Program.Abstract
What this report finds: In recent years, cities, counties, and other localities have become innovators and leaders in standing up for working people. A number of localities have come to view protecting workers and improving their working conditions as part of their core municipal function. Some of the most noteworthy ways in which localities have taken action on behalf of working people in recent years include: 

 

  • establishing dedicated local labor standards offices that enforce workers’ rights laws 
  • establishing ongoing worker boards or councils 
  • passing local worker protection laws
  • actively enforcing local worker protection laws 
  • setting job quality standards for contractors with the municipal government 
  • establishing legal consequences for labor violations among applicants for municipal permits or licenses 
  • practicing high-road employment principles in relation to municipal employees
  • championing worker issues through public leadership 

While other reports have done an excellent job of exploring local action on specific issues like paid sick leave, living wages, and creation of worker boards, this report identifies and examines the broader trend of increased local action and analyzes the landscape of cities and other localities’ pro-worker actions in a comprehensive way.

Why it matters: Policies and enforcement that protect the rights of workers, ensure workers are able to meet their basic needs, and support workers’ efforts to organize are foundational to building healthy, thriving, and equitable communities. Working people in the United States today face multiple crisis situations that not only adversely impact their well-being, but also undermine the health and well-being of communities. Outdated labor laws are skewed against workers trying to form and join unions, and workers who try often face retaliation and other violations by employers. Public enforcement resources are inadequate, and workers are increasingly unable to bring their claims in court because of forced arbitration. In this context, cities and localities are vitally important and necessary actors in the effort to expand and enforce workers’ rights. They are close to their residents, and often are nimble and fast-moving in responding to emerging needs. A few cities (along with a few states) are also at the vanguard of innovating on policy and piloting new approaches to expanding and protecting workers’ rights. There is very meaningful work currently happening at the local level, with untapped potential for much more local action. 

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Can’t JetBlue please fly some must-mask planes?: An appeal to NYC’s hometown airline

May 20, 2022

By Terri Gerstein
Opinion
New York Daily News

I’m writing with a simple request: Please create some mask-required flight options for travelers who want them.

Designating some flights on each route mask-required would be easy. There’d be no need to retrofit plane interiors. No passengers would have to don tactical flight suits or special scuba gear. It’d just be a return, for a few select flights, to the rules from two months ago, hardly a staggering burden. Plus, ample mask-optional choices should reduce the horrible...

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Commerce Fraud Bureau to get new powers to investigate wage theft, other financial crimes

May 26, 2022

BY: 
Minnesota Reformer

Labor leaders are calling a bill that passed the state House and Senate on Sunday the most significant piece of legislation for combating wage theft since it was made a felony in 2019.

The bill (HF 3255), which is awaiting Gov. Tim Walz’s signature, gives the Commerce Fraud Bureau new powers to criminally investigate financial crimes along with more than $800,000 a year to hire five more investigators.

By and large, though, treating labor abuses like wage theft as criminal matters is a relatively new phenomenon, says Terri Gerstein, a labor lawyer at Harvard Law School who has studied the rise of prosecutions of employers.... Read more about Commerce Fraud Bureau to get new powers to investigate wage theft, other financial crimes

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Adding salary ranges to job listings stops people from wasting their time

May 16, 2022

Terri Gerstein
Think, NBC News

Laws requiring disclosure of salary ranges in job postings, like other pay transparency laws, reduce gender and race disparities.

Laws requiring disclosure of salary ranges in job postings, like other pay transparency laws, reduce gender and race disparities. Women still earn far less than men — 83 cents to the dollar in 2022 — and this gap is even worse for women of color: Black women made 58 cents on average, and Latina women 49 cents, for every dollar a non-Latino white man earned last year. Research has found that women are...

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