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Benjamin Sachs

  • Floyd killing shows police unions abuse power. We need radical reform: Former union lawyer

    June 9, 2020

    An article by Benjamin Sachs: Among the many outrages in the death of George Floyd is this one: Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, had been the subject of at least 17 misconduct complaints and yet he remained an armed member of the Minneapolis Police Department. How does that happen? Part of the answer is the collective bargaining agreement reached between the police department and Chauvin’s union. Like other such police agreements, the one in Minneapolis gives cops extraordinary protection from discipline for violent conduct. It mandates a 48-hour waiting period before any officer accused of such conduct can be interviewed, a common delay and a luxury not afforded even to criminal suspects and one that allows officers time to develop a strategy to avoid accountability. Like many police contracts, including those in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., the Minneapolis agreement also requires the expungement of police disciplinary records after a certain amount of time. Under the Minneapolis police contract, any disciplinary action that does not result in punishment must be removed from an officer’s record. Even in cases where an officer is fired for misconduct, the agreement requires an appeals process that frequently leads to reinstatement, especially if the investigating agency has committed procedural errors. Police collective bargaining agreements, in short, insulate cops from discipline.

  • Essential Workers Unite for a May Day Strike. Is It Enough?

    May 4, 2020

    On Friday, front-line workers from Amazon, Instacart, Shipt, Target, and Whole Foods have organized to walk out of their jobs together over demands that their companies provide better pay, benefits, and protections...Despite being classified as essential workers in a crisis, they say, their companies treat them as disposable...That workers are now looking outside their own company isn’t surprising, some experts say. “The problem isn’t unique to Instacart, or Target, or Whole Foods. The problem is across essential work,” says Benjamin Sachs, a labor law expert at Harvard Law School...In other countries, there’s ample precedent for industrywide organizing among workers with similar jobs, like a delivery workers union, but not in the United States. “In fact, under existing law, it’s almost impossible to form unions and bargain at the level of the sector,” says Sachs. As a leader on Clean Slate for Worker Power, a project at Harvard Law School, he recently called for a change in labor law that would allow people who do similar types of work to band together and demand industrywide changes, either as a union or an official collective of workers. “You don’t fix cross-sectoral health and safety problems with just a group of workers at Whole Foods,” he says. Friday’s strike, Sachs says, highlights the pressing need for that kind of change. So far, companies like Amazon have successfully fought off efforts to form unions within their workforce. Withholding labor is only one part of a strike’s goals. The other part is rallying consumer action. “Even a small strike with a lot of attention can hugely influence consumers—and these are all entirely consumer-dependent companies,” says Sachs.

  • Andrew Crespo works from a podium as he teaches his online class from his home

    Zooming in on faculty at home

    April 29, 2020

    With a little help from their at-home photographers, HLS professors share what teaching classes via Zoom looks like.

  • When Did Labor Law Stop Working?

    March 30, 2020

    A podcast by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs: 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 been tax increases on the rich, on the one hand, and campaign-finance reform on the other. But in this episode, we’ll explore the idea that retooling labor laws for the modern economy may be the most effective way to address both these issues. Harvard Law School’s Kestnbaum professor of labor and industry Benjamin Sachs, together with Sharon Block, executive director of the school’s Labor and Worklife Program, explain.

  • Uber Changes Its Rules, and Drivers Adjust Their Strategies

    February 18, 2020

    On a recent morning in Santa Monica, California, Sergio Avedian pulled into the parking lot of a Vons supermarket, signed into the Uber driver app, and waited. At 7:07 am, a ride request came in for a trip to LAX that the app promised would earn Avedian between $9 and $12. He declined it...Thirty minutes later, he got it: A 15-mile ride toward Glendale, near where he lives. Just over an hour later, he dropped his passenger off. She paid $93.51; he pocketed $76.68. Avedian has been driving part time for Uber and Lyft for four years, but just two months ago, or anywhere outside California, this sort of strategy wouldn’t have worked. But in January, in response to a new state law, Uber changed the workings of its driver app in the Golden State, affecting some 395,000 drivers. Drivers can now see where a rider wants to go and an estimated payout before they accept. They are, theoretically, not punished by the Uber algorithm for rejecting too many rides. (Though starting last week, Uber began sending fewer requests to those who reject or cancel the vast majority of their ride requests.) Driver bonuses are structured differently. And around three California airports, Uber is experimenting with allowing drivers to choose their own fares... “Employers often respond to changes in the law by tweaking their business practices to avoid responsibility, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing here,” says Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and employment law at Harvard Law School.

  • House Democrats Poised To Pass Major Labor Reforms Boosting Unions

    February 6, 2020

    The House is set to vote Thursday on a sweeping plan to overhaul U.S. workplace law in a way that could grow union membership and rejuvenate an ailing labor movement With Democrats holding the chamber’s majority, the legislation ― called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act ― will likely pass but then face certain death in the GOP-controlled Senate. ...The legislation shares a lot in common with a new labor reform plan being passed around progressive circles called Clean Slate for Worker Power, spearheaded by Harvard University law professors Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs. While their plan goes much further than the PRO Act ― for instance, Clean Slate calls for worker representation on corporate boards  ― Block and Sachs told HuffPost they see the Democratic legislation as an important first step in fixing a collective bargaining system that dates to the Great Depression and that unions say is broken. “Folks are thinking in a bigger, bolder, more progressive way,” said Block, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that referees labor disputes. “It enables workers to see that their lives could really be different… rather than the smaller-bore fixes like we’ve tried in the past that didn’t work.”

  • Technology Has Made Labor Laws Obsolete, Experts Say

    January 27, 2020

    In the 1930s, at the time of the writing of the Wagner Act—the law which grants workers the right to form unions and collectively bargain— union organizing took place during shift changes on factory floors and over beers in union halls. The law protected workers from retaliation for this type of in-real-life organizing, and it still does...In a new report “Clean Slate for Worker Power,” released last Thursday by Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, experts argue that U.S. labor law is obsolete and in need of a massive overhaul to meet the needs of workers organizing in modern times... “When [legislators] looked out at the economy in 1935, they saw factories where people worked similar shifts at similar jobs,” Benjamin Sachs, an author of the report and a professor of labor at Harvard Law School, told Motherboard. “But the modern workplace is fissured. Now we have gig workers and temp workers and franchised workers and freelancers. Empowering workers in the modern economy is different.” “There is no actual water cooler anymore,” Sharon Block, another author of the report, and director of Harvard’s Law School’s Labor and Workplace program, told Motherboard. “We recommend that employers should have to create digital meeting spaces, virtual water coolers, where there’s a safe space for workers to talk with each other about their collective interests.”

  • A SOS Call for America’s Workers

    January 24, 2020

    On one level, the new report,  Clean Slate for Worker Power:  Building a Just Economy and Democracy—released Thursday and written by more than 70 professors, labor leaders and activists—is an ambitious menu of recommendations for how to remake America’s labor laws. ...Professor Sachs said, “The dire assessment by political scientists is that today in America the majority does not rule.” He added, “As economic wealth gets more and more concentrated, the wealthy build greater and greater political power that they, in turn, convert into government policy that enables them to build even more wealth, and on, and on.”The report is a wake-up call that something bold, even radical, needs to be done. Its authors see radical inequality and recommend radical solutions that seek to make the capitalist system fairer to workers, by giving them more power and say on the job, in politics and in policymaking. As Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and also one of the report’s main authors, put it, “The problem of inequality is on a different scale than in other countries, and the solutions have to be on a different scale.”

  • A Gut Renovation for U.S. Labor Law

    January 24, 2020

    American Labor Law is broken, argues a report released today by Clean Slate for Worker Power, a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. So, the report urges, the nation’s labor laws need to be fundamentally rewritten to make it easier for workers to organize, to have a voice in corporate decisions that affect them, and to participate in democracy—all essential to address larger concerns about economic and political equity in a divided, polarized society. At bottom, the project aims “to shift power from corporations to workers,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program, at the project’s launch Thursday morning. The ambitious, 100-plus page report lays out an agenda for a revitalized, robust labor law for the twenty-first century. ... “The richest 20 people in this country have more wealth than half the nation put together,” said Kestnbaum professor of labor and industry Benjamin Sachs, the co-leader with Block of Clean Slate. “It would take an Amazon worker about 4 million years working full-time to earn what Jeff Bezos now has. This vast disparity in material wealth means that millions of American families struggle just to barely get by.

  • Sharon Block introduces Clean Slate Initiative

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

    January 23, 2020

    The Harvard Gazette sat down with Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs of Harvard's Labor and Worklife Program to talk about their report "Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Democracy and Economy," and about what they envision for the future of labor law in the United States.

  • Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges

    January 23, 2020

    More than 70 scholars, union leaders, economists and activists called on Thursday for a far-reaching overhaul of American labor laws to vastly increase workers’ power on the job and in politics, recommending new laws to make unionizing easier and to elect worker representatives to corporate boards. ... The Clean Slate report, nearly two years in the making, aims to rethink American labor law from scratch. “We firmly believe that we’re past the point of tinkering around the edges, that to really fix the problems in our economy and political system we need a fundamental rethinking of labor law,” said Sharon Block, one of the report’s main authors and executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. ... “This is an attempt to lay out a comprehensive vision of what labor law reform ought to look like,” said Ben Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s main authors. “We need this as a kind of North Star to know where we’re going when we have a chance to do reform of any kind.”

  • Rewriting labor law, circa 2020

    January 23, 2020

    American workers have had the right to unionize since 1935, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his first term as president and the Great Depression was ravaging the economy. But the parameters haven’t changed much in 85 years. Not as the treatment of women and people of color became more equitable. Not as businesses employed more independent contractors who weren’t protected by labor laws. And not as the gulf between the haves and have-nots expanded. On Thursday, two Harvard Law School faculty members unveiled a sweeping proposal to rewrite US labor law, aimed not at updating what’s on the books but at starting over. ... “ ‘Clean Slate’ is our vision for what labor law would look like if it were actually designed to enable workers to build an equitable economy,” said Benjamin Sachs, Harvard Law School professor and coauthor of the report. “It’s not a project designed to garner bipartisan support. It’s not a project designed to get the maximum amount of business endorsement.” ... The project is not just about unions, said coauthor Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who served in the US Labor Department under President Obama. It’s also intended to reform democracy, including proposals to promote workers’ civic engagement by mandating same-day voter registration and granting paid time off to vote and attend meetings.

  • Why U.S. labor laws need to be revamped

    January 23, 2020

    Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program, and Benjamin Sachs, the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School (HLS) are calling for an overhaul of American labor law. The Gazette sat down with Block and Sachs to talk about their report “Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Democracy and Economy,” which was released today.

  • A Surprising Solution to Save American Democracy

    January 23, 2020

    An article by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs: Running throughout the Democratic presidential debates has been a consistent theme: We are living in an era of deep economic and political inequality, and these dual crises now threaten to undermine our democracy. What does economic inequality look like today? Well, it would take an average Amazon worker 3.8 million years, working full time, to earn what CEO Jeff Bezos now possesses. And the country's wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than half of the nation combined—20 people with more wealth than 152 million others. On the political front, the facts are just as stark. Political scientists increasingly believe that our government no longer responds to the views of anyone but the wealthy. Of course, these forms of inequality are mutually reinforcing: As economic wealth gets more concentrated, the wealthy build greater and greater political power that they, in turn, translate into favorable policies that lead to even more profound concentrations of wealth. And on and on.

  • Warren Supports ‘Sectoral Bargaining.’ Here’s What That Means

    October 22, 2019

    Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is getting some attention for her recently released labor platform, which focuses on unions and “sectoral bargaining,” a concept new to most Americans. Sectoral bargaining is when an entire field or industry agrees on basics, such as safety standards or minimum wages, rather than each company bargaining with its own workers. Benjamin Sachs, professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, said it’s worth noting because union membership has decreased in the United States. He said he thinks that’s partly because of the way businesses or enterprises handle their bargaining now. “The problem with enterprise bargaining,” he said, “is that as soon as you have a union in one enterprise, that puts that enterprise at a competitive disadvantage with all the other enterprises in the same market.”...While fewer Americans are union members than in the past, Sachs argued that doesn’t mean unions are less popular. According to Gallup polling, Americans increasingly have approved of labor unions since 2009, soon after the recession.

  • Candidates Grow Bolder on Labor, and Not Just Bernie Sanders

    October 15, 2019

    When Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016, his campaign was strikingly pro-labor...Several candidates have pledged to ban noncompete agreements, which hold down wages for workers, and mandatory-arbitration clauses, which prohibit lawsuits against employers...Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America and a top volunteer adviser to Mr. Sanders in 2016 and now, said that he has been touting the importance of sectoral bargaining to Mr. Sanders in recent years...Mr. Cohen has also been involved in an effort by two faculty members at Harvard Law School, known as the Clean Slate for Worker Power project, to convene dozens of labor experts, activists and organizers to reimagine labor law from the ground up. The group won’t publish its recommendations until January, but in the meantime it has worked to disseminate ideas like sectoral bargaining across the campaigns. Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs, the Harvard faculty members involved, have weighed in with several campaigns that have embraced this approach, according to aides to Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. O’Rourke and Mr. Booker. Ms. Block, a former Obama administration official and congressional staff member who is a veteran of legislative efforts to make unionizing and collective bargaining easier, said experience had taught her that advancing labor interests through provisions like card check doesn’t work: Such measures tend to be too small to matter substantively, and they fail to generate political excitement among those who would benefit. “The folks who don’t want this to happen will fight just as hard whether it’s small or big,” Ms. Block said. “But doing something bigger makes moving legislation easier because you have the potential to have a much bigger constituency behind it.”

  • Warren Supports ‘Sectoral Bargaining.’ Here’s What That Means

    October 11, 2019

    Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is getting some attention for her recently released labor platform, which focuses on unions and "sectoral bargaining," a concept new to most Americans. Sectoral bargaining is when an entire field or industry agrees on basics, such as safety standards or minimum wages, rather than each company bargaining with its own workers. Benjamin Sachs, professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, said it's worth noting because union membership has decreased in the United States. He said he thinks that's partly because of the way businesses or enterprises handle their bargaining now. "The problem with enterprise bargaining," he said, "is that as soon as you have a union in one enterprise, that puts that enterprise at a competitive disadvantage with all the other enterprises in the same market."

  • TECHUBER Announcing Uber Works, the Ride-Hailing Giant Changes Lanes into Temporary Work

    October 4, 2019

    While Uber faces legal battles over whether its drivers should be classified as employees or contractors, the tech company unveiled an unexpected new service on Wednesday: Uber Works. ...Despite Uber's new take on temporary employment, Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, says it's more of the same. "The connection between Uber Works and the ride-hailing side that I see is this massive company with intense tech resources fueling the degradation of work, rather than to make work meaningful," Sachs told Fortune. Sachs added that once again Uber is defaulting to billing itself as an app that connects people to work opportunities, rather than carrying the burden of being an employer.

  • Why the Gig Economy Matters — Even If It’s Small

    September 18, 2019

    When I started reporting on gig workers in 2014, I was surprised to find some of the people who represented labor organizations would respond to my inquiries with mild irritation. Why would you write about Lyft and Uber’s labor issues, they’d ask me, when there are so many sectors with bigger workforces? ... I ran this idea by Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law who has written extensively about the gig economy. “It seems intuitively possible that the reason this is now possible is that the issue has been hitched to a politically salient group of workers,” he said. That analysis seems all the more accurate because it can be observed in reverse: While blue states like California and blue cities like New York and Seattle have been passing laws that grant gig economy workers more rights, red states have started passing legislation that, for instance, preemptively classifies gig economy workers as independent contractors. “Overall,” he said, the attention paid to the gig economy “could make it more likely to move things.”

  • What California should do next to help Uber drivers

    September 13, 2019

    An op-ed by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs: The struggle for gig workers’ rights took a big step forward this week when the California legislature passed a law classifying many such workers—including Uber and Lyft drivers—as “employees.” Once it is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the law will grant workers in California critical protections such as minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance — all of which they currently lack. Uber has vowed to fight application of the law to its drivers through litigation or repeal by referendum. It’s a significant victory for the gig workers, and California’s move could lead other states to act, but there’s a problem. It’s that the new law fails to offer gig workers one of the most important employment rights of all: the right to form a union. As important as minimum wage and overtime pay are, they are minimum protections that fall far short of ensuring that workers earn what they need; only a union and a collective bargaining agreement enable workers to demand and secure anything beyond these minimum standards. But even more important, a substantial body of economic research confirms that basic workplace protections are adequately enforced only when there’s a union on the scene.

  • Why Uber Thinks It Can Still Call Its Drivers Contractors

    September 12, 2019

    Uber will not treat its California drivers as employees, the ride-hail company’s head lawyer said Wednesday, despite a new law designed to do just that. The law would create a more stringent test to separate independent contractors from full-time employees. The company’s argument rests on a premise that’s been a cornerstone since its early days: that Uber is a technology company, not a transportation one. ... Elsewhere, though, courts have had little patience for this argument. In California, one federal judge called it “fatally flawed,” arguing the company is “no more a ‘technology company’ than Yellow Cab is a ‘technology company’ because it uses CB radios to dispatch taxi cabs.” “It seems very clear that Uber is a transportation company, not a technology company, despite the fact that it uses an impressively powerful piece of technology to offer transportation services,” says Benjamin Sachs, a professor who teaches labor law at Harvard Law School.

  • “Unions for all”: the new plan to save the American labor movement

    September 3, 2019

    Labor Day 2019 comes in the midst of a crisis for the American labor movement...So a growing number of labor law experts and even presidential candidates (including Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) have settled on a new approach to revive the US labor movement...This approach is called “sectoral bargaining,” and it could change the way work is done in the United States....“Sectoral bargaining is certainly getting more attention in legal academic and labor law policy debates,” Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and former practicing labor lawyer, says. “The way I would think about it is that there’s an existential panic about what will happen to the labor movement. That’s not new, it’s just getting worse. … If we need unions for economic and political equality as I think we do, we have to do something to stop that downward spiral.”

  • Barstool Sports Founder’s Tweetstorm Raises Labor Row

    August 14, 2019

    The founder of bombastic sports website Barstool Sports is the latest boss to potentially face an unfair labor practice complaint for an anti-union tweetstorm threatening workers who talk to union attorneys. ...Federal law allows managers and other agents of a company to criticize unions, but restricts them from threatening to punish employees who organize. “As an employer, you can hate unions, denigrate unions, oppose unions,” said University of Wyoming law professor Michael Duff, a former NLRB attorney. “But you may not, in reaction to real or imagined concerted employee activity, make statements containing threats of reprisal” like Portnoy’s. “Under any reading of the federal labor law, telling workers that they’re going to be fired if they seek advice or help about a unionization campaign is flatly illegal,” said Harvard law professor Ben Sachs. “In my estimation, even the Trump NLRB would consider that illegal.”

  • The Next Union Era

    August 12, 2019

    ...Indeed, while changes in both the nature of work and anti-union government policies abetted organized labor’s decline, Rolf is right to observe that the union business model may be an even bigger problem. ...In addition, as Harvard Law School’s Benjamin Sachs has proposed, unions should be allowed to “unbundle” their services so that they can advocate political causes without bargaining collectively. This could help give workers a stronger political voice without the necessity of getting involved in every workplace issue. Unions and employers should also be free to reach contracts that involve only some aspects of work — say, benefits and work rules but not wages and job tenure — and unions should be free to sell a range of services to anybody who wants to buy them, employers included.

  • Unions are on frontlines of fight against inequality

    April 30, 2019

    Stop & Shop’s stores were ghost towns during the recent strike. With workers standing outside in picket lines, customers stayed away , leading to one of the most effective strikes in recent memory. The grocery clerks and bakers and meat cutters holding signs were protesting proposed cuts to their benefits, but their plight also resonated with the public because they represented something bigger: working Americans across the country whose wages are barely budging while the cost of living skyrockets in such places as Boston and corporations rake in record profits. ...“What we’re seeing is an increasing resistance to the fundamental unfairness of a system that’s so skewed both economically and politically to the wealthy,” said Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School labor professor, noting that when Uber goes public, former CEO Travis Kalanick’s stock is expected to be worth upward of $6 billion — an amount that would take a full-time Uber driver 150,000 years to make.

  • Illustration with books

    Law’s Influencers

    February 26, 2019

    HLS faculty blogs on law-related topics are reaching thousands—sometimes millions—and have become required reading for experts.

  • Under Trump, labor protections stripped away

    September 4, 2018

    ...Several worker advocacy groups have seized the moment to propose major overhauls to labor law, including the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, which is exploring policy proposals to reimagine collective bargaining by sector instead of by employer, and to give workers seats on corporate boards, among other recommendations. It’s not just a reaction to Trump, said Sharon Block, who runs the center with labor professor Benjamin Sachs, though she added he’s certainly making matters worse. “The little power that workers have, this administration seems to be bound and determined to diminish even more,” said Block, who served on the NLRB board and was a labor adviser to President Obama. “The time for tinkering around the edges has past. What we really need is fundamental change.”

  • Medicaid Officials Target Home Health Aides’ Union Dues

    August 14, 2018

    Medicaid home care aides — hourly workers who help the elderly and disabled with daily tasks like eating, getting dressed and bathing — are emerging as the latest target in the ongoing power struggle between conservatives and organized labor...A proposed rule from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would prohibit home health aides paid directly by Medicaid from having their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks, though it doesn’t name the fees explicitly...“When a state pays a worker, and the worker pays the union, it’s the worker’s money going into the union,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School who studies labor law. “CMS doesn’t have the authority to decide.”

  • A 'Clean Slate' for the future of labor law

    A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

    August 1, 2018

    In July, Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program began an ambitious effort to fix a broken system of labor laws. The program, with the overall title “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law,” began with a daylong seminar at Wasserstein Hall last month.

  • 3 ways Trump’s Supreme Court pick could transform U.S. labor law

    July 17, 2018

    ...“This last term was horrendous for workers. If you are to have imagined a nightmare scenario for workers and workers rights, this would be it,” said Benjamin Sachs, a labor law expert at Harvard University. “But in those cases, the ruling justices also planted seeds that could lead to further damage against workers.”

  • Amazon is helping entrepreneurs start delivery companies — as long as they deliver Amazon packages

    June 29, 2018 is asking small-business owners to help deliver its goods, seeking to reduce its reliance on the U.S. Postal Service and other major delivery services as the number of packages it ships continues to climb. The online retailer, which last year shipped more than 5 billion packages through its Prime program, on Thursday said it is looking for hundreds of entrepreneurs “with little to no logistics experience” to set up their own delivery businesses — complete with Amazon-branded vehicles and uniforms...By using independent contractors instead of Amazon employees to deliver goods, the company can avoid paying benefits such as overtime, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, according to Benjamin I. Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School. “This is a risk shift we’ve seen across the gig economy as companies convert people who should be employees into independent contractors,” he said. “There could be a whole host of issues here.”

  • How Democratic lawmakers should help unions reeling from the Janus decision

    June 28, 2018

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block. With its 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court has just imposed a right-to-work regime on public workers everywhere in the country — a profound blow to the union movement. As a result of the decision, public sector unions are now legally obligated to provide representation to workers and yet legally prohibited from requiring anyone to pay for that representation. Before Janus, public sector employees who didn’t want to be union members still had to pay their share of what it cost the union to represent them. This “fair share fee” was calculated to include the worker’s share of the union’s collective bargaining expenses and also the costs the union incurred providing individual representation to the worker in grievance and arbitration proceedings. The fee could not include any costs of the union’s political program.

  • After Janus, Unions Must Save Themselves

    June 28, 2018

    Conservatives on the Supreme Court have been signaling for years that they would like to destroy public-sector unions. On Wednesday, they handed down a ruling that aims to do just that. But the justices and right-wing groups that pushed for this outcome could soon find that it will not be so easy to suppress teachers, social workers and other government employees who in recent months have taken to the streets to demand raises and better working conditions...Benjamin Sachs, a labor expert at Harvard Law School, also suggests that states change how unions are compensated for collective bargaining expenses. He argues that even though workers pay union fees, that money ultimately comes from governments because the fees are deducted from the paychecks of public employees. State and local governments could solve the problem created by the Supreme Court’s Janus decision by paying unions directly for their expenses and reducing worker pay by an equivalent amount.

  • Supreme Court Deals Blow to Labor Unions (audio)

    June 28, 2018

    An interview with Benjamin Sachs. The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to labor unions today in the case of Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees -- commonly known as AFSCME. In a 5-4 decision, the conservatives on the bench won out and ruled that states can not force government workers to pay union fees -- even though nonunion workers have the same pay and benefits as their union colleagues.

  • The NFL’s “take a knee” ban is flatly illegal

    May 29, 2018

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs. NFL team owners this week decided that players will no longer be allowed to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. And if they do, they will be subject to punishment and their team will be subject to fines. The owners did provide the players with an alternative, of sorts: If a player does not wish to stand and salute the flag, he can stay in the locker room and wait for the anthem to end. This new league policy is meant to enforce a particular vision of patriotism, one that involves compliance rather than freedom of expression. The policy is also illegal — for a host of reasons.

  • Enough with the Flexibility Trope

    May 21, 2018

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the death of Pablo Avendano, a 34-year old bike messenger who was killed while delivering food for Caviar, the app-based food delivery service. Because Avendano was classified as an independent contractor and not an employee, his family will not be entitled to workers compensation benefits that they could otherwise collect...If gig workers – Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, and Caviar delivery people – get reclassified as employees, that status will not require the firms to take away all the workers’ flexibility. In fact, the trope gets the relationship between control and employee status exactly backwards. The way the law works is this: if a firm exercises sufficient control over a worker, then the worker may be an employee.

  • The emerging plan to save the American labor movement

    April 9, 2018

    The Center for American Progress (CAP), one of DC’s most influential liberal think tanks with deep ties to the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign, has just proposed a big idea for raising Americans’ wages. A new paper by CAP’s David Madland calls for the creation of national wage boards, tasked with setting minimum wage and benefit standards for specific industries. Fast food companies, say, would send representatives to meet with union officials and other worker representatives, and hammer out a deal that ensures workers get a fair shake. Same goes for nurses, or retail workers, or home health aides, or accountants...“Sectoral bargaining is certainly getting more attention in legal academic and labor law policy debates,” Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and former practicing labor lawyer, says. “The way I would think about it is that there’s an existential panic about what will happen to the labor movement. That’s not new, it’s just getting worse. … If we need unions for economic and political equality as I think we do, we have to do something to stop that downward spiral.”

  • U.S. Supreme Court

    Sachs, Fried file amicus briefs in Janus v. ASFCME

    February 20, 2018

    In January, Ben Sachs, the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry, filed an amicus brief in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, urging the Supreme Court to reject Janus's challenge on the ground that it does not raise a valid First Amendment claim.

  • The Trump administration is abandoning McDonald’s workers — and everyone else

    February 9, 2018

    An op-ed by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs. For the past three years, the federal government has painstakingly built a case against the world’s second-largest private employer, McDonald’s, charging the company with illegally harassing and terminating employees who have gone on strike with the “Fight for $15″ campaign. There have been over 150 days of trial and hundreds of exhibits entered into the record. And though McDonald’s has aggressively fought to slow down the trial, attorneys at the National Labor Relations Board have continued to press the case. Until, that is, the Trump administration’s political appointees showed up for work.

  • Local landmark

    February 8, 2018

    Even in his hometown of Springfield, Mark Janus is a relatively unknown figure. Janus is a state employee who works in a nondescript office investigating child support claims. He’s also a divorced father of two adult children and he volunteers to help Boy Scouts. Until recently there was little in the 65-year-old man’s life that would indicate he would make history. But on Feb. 26 the United States Supreme Court will hear his case. At stake is whether government workers should, as a condition of employment, be compelled to pay money to a union. “I would say this case has the potential to be a landmark case,” Harvard University Law Professor Benjamin Sachs told Illinois Times. “Essentially, if the court rules in Mr. Janus’ favor, it would put every government worker in the United States under a right-to-work regime.”

  • Continuing the Labor Law Reform Debate in 2018

    January 3, 2018

    An article by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs. In September, we shared our plan to hold a symposium at Harvard Law on the question of whether it is time to end labor preemption. The symposium brought together leading labor law scholars and practitioners to wrestle with this big question. To help give context to the symposium discussion, we had asked several thought leaders to help paint the picture of what is at stake in this debate by exploring ways that workers are already organizing outside of the confines of the National Labor Relations Act and models that they might pursue, if given the opportunity.

  • It should be illegal to fire the cyclist who gave Trump the finger

    November 9, 2017

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs. Juli Briskman was fired after telling her employer that she’s the one who gave President Trump’s motorcade, as The Post’s Petula Dvorak put it, the “middle-finger salute seen around the world.” However sympathetic Briskman’s story is and heavy-handed the consequence seems, the conventional legal treatment of this situation would be straightforward: Briskman’s employer, the government contractor Akima LLC, has the right to fire her at will. Under this conventional approach, if Akima management doesn’t like it when employees publicly express political views, then as a private-sector employer, it isn’t bound to respect the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. But these aren’t conventional times, and the conventional legal approach doesn’t make sense today. Briskman’s firing is unconscionable, and it should be illegal.

  • The Law Is on the N.F.L. Players’ Side

    October 18, 2017

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs and Noah Zatz. As National Football League owners and players’ union representatives meet in New York today and tomorrow to discuss the players’ recent demonstrations — the kneeling, linking arms or raising fists during the national anthem — they should know how the law views these protests. This will not only tell them what the league lawfully can do; it also will reveal something about American values.

  • Benching NFL players for protesting during the anthem would be illegal

    October 16, 2017

    An op-ed by Benjamin Sachs. Last Sunday, Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said he would bench players who did not stand during the national anthem. This threat was publicized nationally and applauded on Twitter by President Trump, who summarized the two men’s shared view: “Stand for Anthem or sit for game!” On Wednesday, the president elaborated on his views, telling Fox News that the NFL “should have suspended” Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem because “you cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem — you cannot do that.” It is quite possible the players have First Amendment protection against retaliation of this kind.

  • N.F.L. Players May Have an Ally in Their Protests: Labor Law

    October 13, 2017

    As National Football League team owners consider President Trump’s call to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, they have stumbled into one of the most consequential debates in today’s workplace: How far can workers go in banding together to address problems related to their employment? In principle, the answer in the N.F.L. and elsewhere may be: Quite far. To the extent that most people think about the reach of federal labor law, they probably imagine a union context — like organizing workers, or bargaining as a group across the table from management...“Workers without a traditional organization that is meant to protect them at work are kind of scrambling around for new ways of protecting themselves,” said Benjamin Sachs, a labor law professor at Harvard University.

  • Is it legal for Jerry Jones to bench players who don’t stand?

    October 12, 2017

    On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated that he would bench players who didn't stand for the national anthem before games...But does Jones, or any other owner, have the right to bench a player for protesting during the anthem? Could such a benching be a violation of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement or, beyond that, could it even be illegal?...Benjamin I. Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry, Harvard University: "I think being benched is adverse employment action. I also think that the protests are in fact directly related to their status as NFL employees. If they are protesting racial discrimination, that's something that impacts their status as NFL players. So I think benching would be violating federal law."

  • How Unions Are Already Gearing Up for a Supreme Court Loss

    October 5, 2017

    Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will add a case critical to the future of public-sector unions to its docket. With President Donald Trump's appointment of conservative-leaning Justice Neil Gorsuch, many expect the court to rule against the unions. Such a decision would energize the recent resurgence of state laws that effectively reduce the power of unions in both the public and private sector...“It is an enormously big deal,” says Harvard law professor Benjamin Sachs, who often writes about labor issues. “Unions have to provide services and representation equally to everyone in a bargaining unit. But if you can get those services for free, a lot of people won’t pay them. You have a classic free-rider situation.”

  • The national anthem as lightning rod

    October 4, 2017

    When President Trump called for owners of National Football League teams to fire players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism, the response by players and others was an even more widespread dissent before games that touched a deep cultural nerve and shook a seminal American institution...“As a general rule, the Constitution’s free speech protections don’t apply in private-sector workplaces — including the NFL — so the First Amendment generally isn’t much help here,” said Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School and an authority on labor law.

  • The Supreme Court Could Prevent Millions of Workers From Suing Their Employers

    October 3, 2017

    ...On Monday, the Supreme Court opened its fall term with National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, and two similar cases, that will determine whether companies can force workers like Hobson to sign away their right to file collective suits. The decision in the cases, which were heard jointly, has the potential to push millions more workers into individual arbitration hearings that lack many of the protections of the US legal system...Sharon Block, the director of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former NLRB board member, is concerned that Murphy Oil could be used to stamp out other workplace rights. Block and Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard law professor, recently highlighted how the Trump administration’s brief casts doubt on the legal protections for collective actions outside of a traditional union context. That interpretation, Block says, could prevent workers from jointly asking for wage increases or joining worker centers that advocate for higher wages. Those rights are particularly important as union membership declines.

  • Trump wants to make America great again by using the Supreme Court to gut the rights of non-union workers

    September 28, 2017

    An op-ed by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs. The Trump Administration is waging a quiet war on workers. The effort involves anti-union appointments to federal agencies, repeal of Obama-era regulations that were designed to raise the wages of low and middle income workers, and support for anti-worker legislation in Congress. But the most recent salvo may actually prove to be the most devastating. In a case called Murphy Oil, slated for the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, the Trump administration is inviting the court to eviscerate the rights of employees who don’t have a union.