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Sharon Block

  • U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s

    April 1, 2019

    The Labor Department released a proposal on Monday that would limit claims against big companies for employment-law violations by franchisees or contractors. The proposal, related to a concept called joint employment, seeks to define when, for example, employees of a locally owned McDonald’s restaurant could successfully take action against the McDonald’s Corporation over violations of minimum-wage and overtime laws. ...Critics accused the department of laying out a step-by-step guide to employers seeking to get off the hook for violations even when they have substantial control over workers hired by their franchisees and contractors.“It has provided such an obvious road map for employers to evade liability,” said Sharon Block, a former top official in the Obama Labor Department who is executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “But that’s going to introduce tremendous uncertainty into the lives of American workers who are subject to these business models.” Ms. Block said that the legality of the regulation was likely to be challenged once it was finalized, and that courts could refuse to be bound by it.

  • Labor’s Hard Choice in Amazon Age: Play Along or Get Tough

    February 22, 2019

    It’s one of the most vexing challenges facing the labor movement: how to wield influence in an era increasingly dominated by technology giants that are often resistant to unions. Are workers best served when unions take an adversarial stance toward such companies? Or should labor groups seek cooperation with employers, even if the resulting deals do little to advance labor’s broader goals? ...But Sharon Block, a senior Labor Department official under President Barack Obama, argued that the deal was defensible. Ms. Block pointed out that the guild had taken something of a hybrid approach between cooperation and antagonism, lobbying for policies such as a minimum earnings standard for drivers and allowing passengers to tip, both of which have been enacted in New York. “There are situations in which taking the half loaf can be worthwhile,” Ms. Block said.

  • The Resurrection of American Labor

    February 7, 2019

    According to the official records, U.S. workers went on strike seven times during 2017. That’s a particular nadir in the long decline of organized labor: the second-fewest work stoppages recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since the agency started keeping track in the 1940s. ...Beyond the growing number of union alternatives, demonstrations by employees are part of a rise in political activity overall. The years since the 2016 election have witnessed the largest protests in U.S. history, inspiring a lot of people—particularly college-educated twentysomethings—to demonstrate for the first time. And while a Black Lives Matter protest or a Women’s March on Washington may seem unrelated to work, they can inspire people to speak out for other causes. “I think there’s a real desire for working people to not segment their lives so much,” says Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. Companies know that, too. That’s why places such as Comcast, Facebook, and Google gave workers time off to join political protests in 2016. The problem, Block says, is that political issues are often workplace issues, too. “Immigration, racial justice, gender equality—people are seeing these things as interconnected, and that’s giving rise to movements that aren’t so easy to characterize but are very powerful.”

  • Joe Kennedy preaches ‘moral capitalism’ at Harvard Law

    February 5, 2019

    Joe Kennedy started his push for “moral capitalism” by urging local business leaders to help address the country’s worsening income inequality. Now, the congressman is spelling out his ideas for how the federal government should tackle the problem.The Massachusetts Democrat spoke to a packed room at Harvard Law School on Monday, making his plea for a government unafraid to set new rules for a fair and just economy. ...Kennedy has clearly touched a nerve. Organizers had to move the Harvard event to a much larger room, due to crushing demand from students and the public, and a big waiting list remained. Sharon Block, a former Obama administration official who now runs Harvard Law’s Labor and Worklife Program, points to one reason the message resonates: The vast majority of people in the United States still feel like they’re struggling just to keep up with their bills, even after a nearly decadelong economic recovery.

  • Labor Department Leadership Vacancies Could Threaten Policy Work

    January 8, 2019

    The Labor Department is starting 2019 without confirmed officials in several key leadership posts, vacancies the business community fears could derail some policy initiatives. ... “I can certainly say there was nothing like this during our time,” Sharon Block, a former DOL policy office head under President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg Law. “These are not easy jobs. People learn how to do them and do them well. There’s huge value in having them stay. I can’t imagine doing the kind of work we did with the kind of vacancies they have.” The department still has career staff who are relied on heavily, she said. The WHD operated without a Senate-confirmed leader for the first five years of the Obama administration and under acting leadership for stretches of the George W. Bush era.

  • The Return of the Strike

    January 7, 2019

    For years, many labor experts seemed ready to write the obituary of strikes in America. In 2017, the number of major strikes—those involving more than 1,000 workers—dwindled to just seven in the private sector. Indeed, over the past decade, there were just 13 major strikes a year on average. That’s less than one-sixth the average annual number in the 1980s (83), and less than one-twentieth the yearly average in the 1970s (288).In 1971 alone, 2.5 million private-sector workers went on strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s 100 times the number, 25,000, who went on strike in 2017. ... Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, says labor’s renewed militancy reflects a broader shift in the zeitgeist. “When there’s a lot of collective action happening more generally—the Women’s March, immigration advocates, gun rights—people are thinking more about acting collectively, which is something that people hadn’t been thinking about for a long time in this country in a significant way.”

  • Workers Just Notched a Rare Win in Federal Court

    January 3, 2019

    In a major win for labor advocates, a federal court issued a long-awaited ruling last week finding that corporations could be held responsible for issues like wage discrimination or illegal job termination, even if the employees were subcontractors or working at a franchised company. ... The appellate court decision could have implications for the new rule as well. “I think it’s really hard to see how the board goes forward with its proposed rule now,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

  • Iowa students drop union push amid challenge, fearing rollback of Obama-era wins

    December 17, 2018

    Students at Iowa's Grinnell College pulled back Friday from a campaign to expand their two-year-old union over concerns that a Republican-dominated board in Washington could use it to strip all or most student workers of the right to bargain collectively. ... "This Board has shown that they have a view of the Act that is not very hospitable towards worker organizing," said Sharon Block, a former board member who now directs the Labor and Work Life program at Harvard Law School. "You just can't discount the possibility that they would reverse that docket again."

  • Despite Trump’s campaign promise to revive U.S. manufacturing, General Motors to slash 14,000 jobs, close up to 5 plants

    November 27, 2018

    He’s the lil’ engine who couldn’t. The manufacturing motor President Trump vowed to jump start in the nation’s heartland sputtered and stalled Monday when General Motors announced it would cut as many as 14,000 jobs and possibly more — many of them based in the Midwest...“[Trump] was running around saying the auto industry was building more plants and creating more jobs,” said Sharon Block, director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. “This would suggest, again, that he wasn’t being truthful with the American people.”

  • Tipped Wage Policy Rollback Could Put Labor Dept. at Legal Risk

    November 27, 2018

    The Trump administration’s recent policy change on compensation for tipped workers when they wash dishes or clean tables will likely cause legal trouble again, some attorneys and former Labor Department staff say...Courts tend to defer to agency regulations and policy with the understanding that the agency is the expert, Sharon Block, head of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told Bloomberg Law. But that could be thrown out given perceived “flip-flopping” by the agency. Block was also the head of the Obama DOL’s policy shop. “Although I don’t agree with the position in the opinion letter, I do think it’s important that agencies get deference, though that has limits,” Block said. “If there’s no basis for why the agency has changed the interpretation, even under a doctrine where the agency should get significant deference, they may not meet that standard here.”

  • Trump May Soon Deal Yet Another Blow to Union Rights

    November 13, 2018

    Millions of workers go to work every day for a company that isn’t actually their employer. The firm that sets their wages and schedules, and determines their benefits and how long their job lasts, isn’t the boss that actually cuts their paychecks. They are technically hired via a temp agency, a subcontractor, or another obscure “staffing agency” that supplies the worksite—like an Amazon warehouse or a school cafeteria—with auxiliary staff. The Trump administration is now quietly making it easier for companies to exploit these subcontracted and outsourced workers...According to Sharon Block, labor-law scholar at Harvard and former NLRB member under Obama, the new wording seems “intended to impose an even more onerous burden on parties trying to establish joint employer status. When you string together all the limiting adjectives that the Trump majority uses to describe the kind of control that must be established—essential, substantial, direct, immediate, not limited, not routine–it is hard to imagine how any party will establish joint employer status in other than the most obvious cases.”

  • The Kavanaugh Tilt: Conservative Justices Could Revamp Workplace Law

    October 18, 2018

    The U.S. Supreme Court’s view on affirmative action and employee rights to band together could see a dramatic shift under the court’s newly reconstituted conservative majority, legal scholars told Bloomberg Law...But the Trump administration filed a brief in Epic Systems suggesting that the NLRA’s safeguards for collective worker action only covers group conduct related to self-organization or collective bargaining. “That to me is the most serious and real area to think about an even more conservative Supreme Court changing the law,” Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told Bloomberg Law. “In a world where 94 percent of the private sector isn’t engaged in activities related to collective bargaining, that would be a devastating development.”

  • ‘This Road Just Got a Lot Harder’: Teachers’ Unions Hit With New Round of Lawsuits

    October 16, 2018

    Months after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a hefty blow to teachers’ unions, a rash of new lawsuits has emerged that could further damage these labor groups...“Everybody knows where the end of this litigation road is, which is the Supreme Court,” said Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Janus is sadly not the end of the road. This road just got a lot harder.”

  • What do we really know about trade and labor?: A discussion in the shadow of NAFTA negotiations 1

    What do we really know about trade and labor?

    September 21, 2018

    On August 31, Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, in collaboration with the University of Reading, organized a workshop on the “Past and Future of Labor Provisions in the Context of Trade.”

  • 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.”

  • Trump’s Power to Fire Federal Workers Curtailed by Judge

    August 28, 2018

    A federal district judge in Washington struck down most of the key provisions of three executive orders that President Trump signed in late May that would have made it easier to fire federal employees....Sharon Block of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who is a former senior Labor Department official and National Labor Relations Board member during the Obama administration, called the decision a “stinging rebuke.” “Judge Jackson reminds us that it is in fact the policy of our laws that public sector public bargaining is in the public interest,” she said.

  • Trump Overtime Pay Rule Slow Out of Gate

    August 20, 2018

    The Labor Department has shown scant signs of progress on revising an Obama-era rule to expand overtime pay eligibility, more than a year after embarking on its mission...“When you do it right, this kind of rulemaking is hard,” said Sharon Block, who coordinated the 2016 overtime rulemaking as head of the Obama DOL’s policy shop. “I don’t think this Department of Labor has shown themselves to be able to do this kind of complex difficult rulemaking. I have no idea if they have the capacity to do it in the time they have left.”

  • 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.

  • Trump Nominee Is Mastermind of Anti-Union Legal Campaign

    July 23, 2018

    Even before the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union fees for government workers last month, the next phase of the conservative legal campaign against public-sector unions was underway. In March, with the decision looming, lawyers representing government workers in Washington State asked a federal court to order one of the state’s largest public-employee unions “to disgorge and refund” fees that nonmembers had already paid. Similar lawsuits were filed in California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio...Beyond their legal claims, the cases share another striking detail: The lead counsel in each is a conservative lawyer named Jonathan F. Mitchell...Even so, Mr. Mitchell and his allies may get a favorable reception in the one court that really matters: the Supreme Court. “This court has shown itself to be so hostile to workers’ rights that they will find a way,” said Sharon Block of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who is a former senior Labor Department official and National Labor Relations Board member.

  • Businesses Want Labor Board Democrat Out

    July 17, 2018

    Business lobbyists are urging the White House not to give former National Labor Relations Board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce (D) another stint on the board when his term expires next month, sources tell Bloomberg Law...“This is an incredibly important issue,” former NLRB member Sharon Block (D) told Bloomberg Law of the joint employer decision. “It’s at the heart of having the law continue to be meaningful and to fit the realities of the workplace.”

  • Ending the Dead-End-Job Trap

    July 17, 2018

    An op-ed by Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block. 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. This crackdown on a widespread practice is a welcome development. But as Mr. Ferguson made clear in his announcement, he is still “investigating other corporate chains that utilize no-poach agreements.”

  • After Janus, the Country’s Largest Public-Sector Union Takes Stock of its Movement

    July 5, 2018

    ...Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told The Intercept that she has no doubt that conservative groups will aim to push the limits of the Supreme Court’s holding in Janus for cases like Yohn. “I’m afraid that Janus has opened up additional fronts in the war these groups are waging on public-sector unions and the labor movement more generally,” she said. “We will see litigation for years.”

  • Life after Janus

    June 28, 2018

    Public employee unions were dealt an entirely expected but nonetheless massive blow Wednesday when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Janus v. AFSCME that they may no longer collect mandatory “fair share” or “agency” fees from non-members to cover their portion of the cost of collective bargaining...Back in 2012, the conservative justice questioned the legality of fair-share fees, writing in Knox v. Service Employees that "acceptance of the free-rider argument as a justification for compelling non-members to pay a portion of union dues represents something of an anomaly" and that enrolling workers automatically in unions unless they opted out “represents a remarkable boon to unions.” Alito quoted repeatedly from Knox in yesterday’s case. “Janus isn’t the first time that Alito has opined on the viability of Abood," said Sharon Block, a former Obama DOL official now working at Harvard University.

  • 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.

  • Tesla Severance Offer Draws the Line on Worker-Safety Concerns

    June 19, 2018

    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.

  • Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Workers

    May 22, 2018

    An op-ed by Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block. The Supreme Court has just told the nation’s workers: If you’re underpaid at work, or if you face discrimination on the job, you’re on your own. 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.

  • Regulate With Prejudice? Joint Employer Issue Tests Board Process

    May 15, 2018

    The National Labor Relations Board’s surprise decision to tackle joint employer liability via regulation is raising questions about whether the board’s Republican majority already knows how it will resolve one of the biggest labor policy debates in recent years. But that’s not likely to stop the board from using the rulemaking process to limit legal responsibility for businesses in franchise, staffing, and other contractual arrangements...Supporters of the Obama board’s approach to joint employment say the indirect control standard gives workers a seat at the table, with everyone involved in setting the terms and conditions of their jobs. They’re concerned that the board Republicans will simply turn the scrapped Hy-Brand opinion into a regulation. “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.”

  • Inside the Labor Department’s Legal Brain Drain

    May 11, 2018

    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...The quartet of retiring lawyers oversaw one of the largest legal departments in the federal government, with some 600 DOL attorneys crafting rules and guidance in Washington or enforcing and litigating more than 180 laws across the country. “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.

  • Senate Bill to Curtail Labor Rights on Tribal Land Falls Short

    April 17, 2018

    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...More than half a million people are employed by casinos and affiliated resorts on tribal trust land, and a vast majority are not citizens of tribes. Thousands employed in other tribal enterprises could have been affected as well. “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.

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

    April 10, 2018

    An op-ed by Alison Omens and Sharon Block. 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.

  • Punching In: Confirmation Process Picks Up Steam

    April 10, 2018

    ...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. In fact, McDonald’s may wind up resolving the case without paying anything to the 19 or so workers who said they were retaliated against for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations.

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

    April 9, 2018

    The Minor League Baseball season kicked off on April 5 with more than 50 games across the country. Many players — in addition to facing the opposing teams — face the challenge of living on a low fixed salary that doesn’t include pay for spring training or offseason work. Their contract also doesn’t provide for extra pay when they work more than 40 hours per week, as they often do during the season — with a packed schedule of personal training, team practice, game play and travel...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.

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

    April 5, 2018

    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...Stakeholders on the left continue to believe the general counsel’s reliance on the budget and expected appropriations as a central justification—as in his latest letter—is disingenuous. “The president’s budget came out after Congress had reached agreements on spending caps that are completely at odds with it,” Sharon Block, another Democrat former board member, told Bloomberg Law. Block, who is now at Harvard Law School, said the expectation that Congress will adhere to the White House budget next year “is not a serious idea.”

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

    March 29, 2018

    An op-ed by Sharon Block. Baseball has long been identified as America’s national pastime — the quintessential American game. It has often reflected our culture and society, from Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier during the civil rights movement to rising immigrant participation in the game as our population becomes more diverse. Sadly, as the new baseball season starts, the sport now reflects a very negative trend — the growing inequality and outsize influence of powerful, moneyed corporate interests in our political system. In a provision buried on page 1,967 of the new law to fund the government that passed last week with bipartisan support, Congress rolled back the most basic workplace protections for Minor League Baseball players.

  • The Trump administration wants to let bosses keep their workers’ tips

    March 22, 2018

    ...Trump’s efforts could soon reach your neighborhood restaurant, barbershop, and nail salon. One of the administration’s major deregulation efforts is currently underway at the Department of Labor — and if implemented, it could potentially hurt millions of American workers who get tips as part of their jobs. The agency is considering a new rule that would give employers unprecedented control over what to do with a worker’s gratuities...“It’s really, really troubling,” said Sharon Block, a law professor at Harvard who worked at the Department of Labor under the Obama administration and who helped develop the Obama-era rule clarifying that tips were the property of the workers who earned them. “This is no small thing for people who really can’t afford to be subsidizing their employers.”

  • ‘Energetically Corrupt’ Mulvaney Gave Green Light to Delete Data on Trump’s Tip-Stealing Rule

    March 22, 2018

    Further revealing how far the Trump administration is willing to go to "actively make workers' lives worse," Bloomberg Law reported on Wednesday that White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney personally approved the Labor Department's decision to delete an internal analysis showing that its proposed "tip-sharing rule" would allow companies to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from their employees per year...Mulvaney ultimately sided with Acosta, and the Labor Department scrubbed its internal analysis from the final proposal. "The story about how Secretary Acosta pushed out the tip stealing rule while hiding the cost from the public keeps getting uglier," Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, wrote in response to Bloomberg Law's reporting. "Having to go so far up the chain to get the okay to flout the rules shows that Acosta knew that they were trying to get away with something."

  • Labor Board Scraps Controversial Joint Employer Decision

    February 27, 2018

    The National Labor Relations Board is taking a redo on its controversial decision to limit joint employer liability for affiliated businesses, thanks to ethics questions surrounding Member William Emanuel’s (R) participation in the case. The board announced today that it has vacated its decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors...“This was one of the most important issues that this board was going to deal with and everyone knew that his firm was involved,” former NLRB member Sharon Block told Bloomberg Law of Emanuel’s participation in the case. The board “broke precedent in dealing with an issue of this magnitude” by taking up the joint employment question in a case in which it could have been avoided, Block added.

  • Ethics Conflict at NLRB Pushes Agency Into ‘Uncharted Territory’

    February 23, 2018

    An internal report released this week said a National Labor Relations Board member’s vote in a case tied to his former law firm reveals a “serious and flagrant” ethics problem at the agency and calls into question the validity of a prominent business-friendly decision the Republican majority pushed through last year...Sharon Block, former NLRB member and now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, said the inspector general report makes it clear that the Hy-Brand decision must be invalidated. Block said the board could ask for input from the parties in the case to show why it should or should not validate the decision...“This issue undermines the credibility of the board, which is already subject to a lot of political attack,” Block said. “It’s really unfortunate that they have done something that at least feeds that perception.”

  • Trump’s ‘Tip-Pooling’ Plan Could Screw Your Bartender

    February 14, 2018

    ...The Trump administration is seeking to change wage regulations so that restaurants and other businesses with tipped workers can decide how the gratuities are divvied up...Sharon Block, a former Labor Department official under Obama, said it’s hard to read the proposal any other way. In adopting a judge’s dissent in a tip-sharing lawsuit, Trump’s team seems to argue that the Labor Department can’t tell an employer what to do ― or not do ― with a worker’s tips if the employer pays the federal minimum wage of $7.25. As the judge put it, so long as the workers receive the legal minimum, employers can run tip pools “however they see fit.” “I’m not sure how, based on their adoption of [the dissent], they could draw a legal distinction between what our regulation did and a rule that says the employer can’t keep the tips,” explained Block.

  • Trump’s Labor Board Is Making it Even More Difficult to Unionize Fast-Food Workers

    February 12, 2018

    In a jarring reversal of fortunes, a pending National Labor Relations Board case that was supposed to be a weapon for unionizing hundreds of thousands of low-wage fast-food workers under Obama may now morph into an anti-labor bludgeon for big business under Trump...According to Sharon Block, a former NLRB member under Obama and now director of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program, a full and fair trial would, if nothing else, expose the sham of Trump’s “populist” image, and help dispel any myths surrounding the White House’s sympathies with working-class voters. “If the facts are as strong as they seem to be but the board still fails to find joint employer status, it will be clear to the public what really happened—the Trump administration putting a finger on the scales for corporate America and not working Americans.”

  • 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.

  • In a shift, young Germans win a 28-hour work week

    February 8, 2018

    Experts say a new labor accord granting German metals and electrical workers the right to a 28-hour week reflects a generational shift in how people balance their professional and outside lives...But but but ... don't look for such concessions to reach the U.S. any time soon, suggests Sharon Block, who runs the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. "It shows a growing divide between what is going on here and the rest of the industrialized world," she told Axios.

  • Labor of Law: Driving Labor Law Into the Gig Economy

    January 30, 2018

    ...Are workers employees or independent contractors? Some of the first major labor cases before the Supreme Court focused on that issue—such as whether newspaper delivery people were considered contractors or employees. Sharon Block, a former NLRB member and now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, had this to say: “I think there is a tendency to get distracted by the bright, shiny object of technology. To assume that because technology is involved doesn’t mean that standards don’t apply. The standards of the relationship isn’t changed.”

  • The #MeToo Implications of the Supreme Court’s Workplace Class-Action Case

    January 25, 2018

    The outcome of the major U.S. Supreme Court case over whether companies can ban class actions in employment agreements holds new importance as women join together to speak out against sexual misconduct in the workplace, former National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin said Wednesday...Griffin and fellow experts on labor and employment, former NLRB member Sharon Block, Epstein, Becker & Green member Paul DeCamp and Seyfarth Shaw partner Alexander Passantino, spoke on Wednesday’s panel...Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, said forcing workers to bring claims as individuals could have the effect of taking away the rights outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects concerted speech. “It can eliminate protections for workers who need that protection the most,” Block said.

  • Worker Centers Seen As Likely Targets For Trump Regulators

    January 24, 2018

    Business advocates who have been pressing the federal government for years to increase its regulation of worker centers like Fight for $15 are more hopeful than ever that they'll get their way after a string of reversals of Obama-era National Labor Relations Board precedent..."There's been a continuity to this issue across different administrations,” said Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program Executive Director Sharon Block, who was a DOL policy official in the Obama administration. "[Acosta] injected this uncertainty into what I think had no uncertainty."

  • Trump NLRB Appointee Finds a Way Around Conflict of Interest Rules

    January 24, 2018

    A Trump administration appointee to the National Labor Relations Board benefited the interests and clients of his former law firm when he cast the deciding vote to undo rules protecting workers’ rights in two cases last month...William Emanuel, who joined the NLRB in September, has recused himself from involvement in more than four dozen cases involving the firm he left to join the labor board...“Deciding a case in a way the parties didn’t ask you to decide it seems to me inevitably to raise the question: Why are you doing this?” said [Sharon] Block, who now heads the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “Emanuel having clients that actually had made that request — at the very least that creates a huge appearance problem.”

  • The Trump administration is trying to pass a rule that would allow employers to take billions from their employees’ earned tips

    January 23, 2018

    The Department of Labor has proposed a new regulation that would allow businesses to collect tips earned by their employees and either redistribute them to non-tipped workers or keep them as part of their own profits. The proposal — a win for the powerful National Restaurant Association — has outraged critics, and a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found it would transfer $5.8 billion per year from workers to employers, with nearly 80% of these tips taken from female workers...Women and people of color are both more likely to be tipped employees and to earn lower wages than white men, so critics say the law would have a disproportionate adverse impact on both, and particularly women. "What is at stake is the ability of women to support themselves and their families," Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School and a former DOL official under the Obama administration, told Business Insider. "People often overlook that minimum wage workers are disproportionately women."

  • How the Labor Movement is Thinking Ahead to a Post-Trump World

    January 22, 2018

    The American labor movement, over the past four decades, has had two golden opportunities to shift the balance of power between workers and bosses — first in 1978, with unified Democratic control of Washington, and again in 2009...Unions started discussions around EFCA in 2003, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House...But the politics ended up being far more treacherous than labor anticipated — or perhaps more than the movement allowed itself to see. “We never had 60 votes for EFCA, we just didn’t,” said Sharon Block, who worked as senior labor counsel for Kennedy on the Senate committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions in 2008.

  • Walking the Floor of the Great Minnesota Activist Factory

    January 18, 2018

    ...Take one step back from the day-to-day work of organizing, and it is impossible to miss the specter of the Trump administration hanging over everything that CTUL does. There is the aforementioned threat of reclassification of worker centers by the Labor Department, which would burden them with legal restrictions and regulatory scrutiny, and would be a victory that Chamber of Commerce types have been craving for many years...Sharon Block, who served as a Labor Department official in the Obama administration and is now the director Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, says that during her time in government the White House made a point to reach out to worker centers across the country as allies, a marked difference in posture from what is happening now.

  • Trump appointee may give McDonald’s a break in landmark labor case

    January 11, 2018

    Starting last month, after a 3-2 majority of Republican appointees were confirmed, the National Labor Relations Board reversed four Obama-era decisions and one from the Bush years that bolstered protections for workers. Trump's influence at the NLRB is also being wielded by the general counsel he appointed, Peter Robb, who was confirmed by the Senate in November..."I think that's a bellwether issue as to whether this leadership cares about these statutes making sense and applying today," said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who served as head of policy at the Department of Labor until President Trump took office. "Or is this just a way of letting everybody fend for themselves, without the protections that they were supposed to have?"