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Sharon Block

  • Trump’s Obamacare Rule Would Let Small Firms Act Like Big Ones

    January 5, 2018

    The Trump administration is proposing to let small firms act more like big corporations to buy cheaper health insurance, a measure that would get around some of Obamacare’s requirements. The rule would broaden the availability of less-regulated health insurance coverage to more small employers, and to self-employed people...“This rule seems to err on the side of making AHPs broadly available without making any effort to embed the protections that people get from ACA-covered plans,” said Sharon Block, a former senior Obama administration Labor Department official who now runs the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “You’re moving people towards less-quality plans and potentially doing harm to the people who stay in the ACA-covered plans.”

  • 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.

  • Labor ruling says employees can only have one boss

    December 15, 2017

    The National Labor Relations Board has overturned a 2015 law that made it easier for contractors and workers at franchised businesses to form unions and collectively bargain with big corporations. The 2015 NLRB ruling said contract workers at a recycling center were jointly employed by a third party staffing firm and the business they worked for. Sharon Block was a member of President Obama's NLRB. She's now executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard Law School. “What the Obama board did was try to apply the proper legal standard, but in a way that fit the way that our economy and our business relationships work today,” she said.

  • Trump wants you to tip restaurant owners, not servers

    December 7, 2017

    An op-ed by Sharon Block and Christine Owens. If the Trump administration has its way, the tip you leave your waiter or waitress could end up in the pocket of the restaurant owner instead of the person who served you. This week, Trump’s Labor Department proposed rescinding an Obama-era rule that made the logical point that tips are the property of the servers and cannot be taken by the restaurant owner.

  • Will Trump Lawyers Switch Sides in Supreme Court Labor Case?

    December 6, 2017

    Speculation has been simmering for months that the Trump administration might ask the Supreme Court to ban public sector unions from collecting mandatory fees. Calling for a decision that could significantly reduce labor movement finances and political influence would be a major shift in approach for the federal government. The question will be answered by midnight Dec. 6. That’s the deadline facing the Justice Department if the solicitor general wants to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in its decades-long crusade against government unions...“If they were to take such a radical step to undermine workers’ rights, I have no doubt that it would be motivated not by a genuine concern about constitutional rights but by a desire to destroy the labor movement,” Sharon Block, who was both a National Labor Relations Board member and DOL policy official in the Obama administration, told Bloomberg Law.

  • Labor Department Proposes Killing Obama Tip Pooling Rule

    December 5, 2017

    The Labor Department wants to remove an Obama-era regulation that restricted the circumstances in which employers could force workers to share tips. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, in a proposed rule released Dec. 4, calls for rescinding the 2011 regulation that prohibited restaurants, bars, and other service industry employers from requiring front-of-house employees, such as servers, to share tips with back-of-house workers, such as cooks and dishwashers...The proposal would eliminate from the Fair Labor Standards Act language under the 2011 rule that said tips are the property of the employee regardless of whether the employer has applied a tip credit. The department’s analysis that unwinding this rule will improve workplace conditions for restaurant employees was immediately opposed by worker advocates and former DOL officials in the Obama administration. “There is nothing” in the proposed rule “that would preclude an employer from keeping the tips of workers as long as he’s paid them $7.25 an hour,” Sharon Block, who ran the DOL’s policy shop in the Obama White House, told Bloomberg Law.

  • We need an agenda for new laws to prevent sexual harassment

    December 4, 2017

    An op-ed by Sharon Block and Terri Gerstein. We can all imagine the legion of politicians, media executives and entertainment moguls who are not getting a lot of sleep these days, wondering when their turn in the sexual harassment spotlight will come. That’s a good thing – hopefully, that fear is reforming behavior for them and their peers. An important question is, however, how do we instill the same fear in the hearts of men whose misdeeds won’t land them on the front pages or in the midst of a Twitter storm because they don’t have a public profile. What we’ve learned from the current flurry of revelations about sexual harassment is that public shaming may reform behavior but the law, as is, won’t. That means we need a broad agenda to change the law to protect the millions of women who don’t work for a famous boss.

  • Republicans Plan to Crack Down on Worker Centers, the Last Line of Defense

    November 27, 2017

    The Trump administration is sure to be hell for working people, but so far the actual Labor Secretary has been relatively quiet on the specifics...As explained at length here by former Labor Department official Sharon Block, the only real purpose for reclassifying worker centers is to make their lives harder by requiring them to do a ton of paperwork and follow a ton of new rules. There is no threat being addressed here, except the threat that day laborers might be paid a semi-living wage.

  • We can’t stop sexual harassment until we restructure corporate boards

    November 7, 2017

    An op-ed by Sharon Block. As executives in Hollywood and other industries hold their breath to see who will be the next subject of an exposé on sexual harassment in the workplace, the nation’s board members should be on high-alert: They are also culpable for harassment in the companies that they are supposed to steward. Corporate boards are the institution that the law imbues with ultimate responsibility for company performance. That the Weinstein Company board and others failed so completely to understand what was going on within their firms should give impetus to new thinking about how corporations are governed.

  • America’s workers deserve to get paid for burning the midnight oil

    October 16, 2017

    An op-ed by Patricia Smith and Sharon Block. The clock is ticking. Will the Labor Department appeal a judge’s recent decision that could deny overtime pay to millions of Americans? Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has been clear that he doesn’t like the Obama administration’s overtime rule, insisting that he wants to reconsider it and possibly make one of his own. But he needs to appeal the judge’s decision regardless, otherwise he’s creating uncertainty that isn’t good for anyone. This summer, the Labor Department issued a formal “request for information” to get public feedback on which white collar employees should get overtime pay.

  • A Historic Rule Has Held McDonald’s Liable for Labor Abuses. The GOP Is Close to Undoing It.

    October 16, 2017

    In what was hailed as a major victory for labor unions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2015 redefined what constitutes a “joint employer,” ruling that any company that has “indirect” control over a business can be held responsible if that business violates labor law. In practice this has meant that a corporation such as McDonald’s can be held liable if its franchises are illegally withholding pay to employees or otherwise breaking the law. Now, a new bill could reverse that decision and make it much harder to hold large corporations accountable...“It’s really disingenuous and not truthful to say that what this bill does is undo [the NLRB’s] decision,” Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, tells In These Times.

  • 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.

  • Trump Justice turns against Obama’s DOJ and worker rights in SCOTUS case

    September 25, 2017

    Sheila Hobson never imagined the lawsuit she filed seven years ago about some unpaid overtime would one day become a Supreme Court case with far-reaching implications for American workers. But two days ago, on the eve of oral arguments, she came in for an even bigger shock — the U.S. government, her biggest champion, had suddenly switched sides...The answer is in an amicus brief filed by the U.S. Solicitor-General’s office in her case, National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil. The Trump Justice Department had reconsidered the position taken under President Obama, the brief said, and “reached the opposite conclusion.”...The new position of Trump’s Justice Department threw that principle out the window, said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and a former Obama administration official. “It could essentially close the courthouse door on workers,” she said.

  • The Trump Administration Will Always Side with Corporations Over Labor

    September 14, 2017

    It’s no secret that the Trump administration is corporation-friendly to a fault. For all the talk of the underserved coal miners and workers whose jobs have been stolen by free trade agreements or China, the Oval Office has not been a friendly — or even safe — place for workers in the past eight months. We’ve already reported on the discontinuation of a number of worker safety programs and regulations but there’s much more to Trump’s undercutting of the fundamental rights of American workers going on. We talked with Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, about what’s on her radar as the Trump machine moves quickly forward. In Block’s 20-year career, she’s worked for the National Labor Relations Board and most recently served as the head of the policy office at the Department of Labor under President Obama. She and her team were, in fact, responsible for many of the policies being undercut or discarded by the new crew in town.

  • Lost wages, serious illness and poor labor standards: The dangers of rebuilding Texas and Florida

    September 11, 2017

    As Texas prepares to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey devastated much of the state, and Florida starts picking up the pieces from the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Irma, emergency workers may face exploitation for the sake of greater profits and speedier project completion...Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program and former principal deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, said she is concerned about the administration’s potential response to the recent disasters...“They don’t have real leadership in the agency,” Block said. “So having watched Sandy and the Gulf oil spill, these sort of unexpected disaster responses, even for an agency like OSHA, it’s really complicated and it’s really resource intensive.”

  • The Uncertainties of Being Asked to Work During a Hurricane

    September 11, 2017

    People who live in the possible paths of Hurricane Irma, which could make landfall on American shores as soon as this weekend, face the difficult decision of whether to stay in place or flee. In addition to weighing the costs of leaving town, many also have to consider whether evacuating could put their job at risk...The answer to that question, in many cases, is that they can indeed be fired. Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School and a former Department of Labor employee, says a major storm, even one that yields a state of emergency, doesn’t suspend labor laws. This means that laws that protect workers’ pay still stand, but because in Florida, workers are employed at-will, it also means that (barring a collective-bargaining agreement or contract stating otherwise) workers can still be fired for their absence. “You can be fired for a good reason [or] a bad reason—as long as it's not an unlawful reason, which is usually discrimination,” Block says.

  • How Gig Economy Businesses Can Create Good Jobs–or Destroy Them

    September 8, 2017

    The evolution of work is becoming a battle between flexibility and stability. The sharing economy offers people unprecedented opportunities to work when, where, and as much as they want. But it also threatens a future in which stable, well-paying jobs cede to temporary gigs with few protections. Lawmakers wonder: How do we stoke new-economy industries without burning up old-economy security?...Yes, flexibility is desirable. But it is no substitute for security, said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. Most gig workers, of course, are classified as independent contractors and consequently not covered by laws related to minimum wage, workers' comp, overtime, and other employee benefits and protections. "Many workers in the online platform economy are low-wage workers. Drivers. Cleaners. Home-care workers," Block said. "They have little ability to shoulder the risks to their livelihoods and families that come with the loss of the basic social safety net."

  • Gig Companies Wary of Any Potential Policy Changes to Labor Structure

    September 7, 2017

    Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive of the Internet Association, told the House Education and the Workforce Committee it would be problematic to enact legislation that would ensure workers are labeled as employees, who are entitled to benefits, as opposed to independent contractors...Labor and employment laws do and should apply to this sector, Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told the committee. Block said the application of current law should not stifle flexibility.