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Sharon Block

  • Police unions blamed for rise in fatal shootings even as crime plummeted

    June 29, 2020

    Police unions have emerged as the leading opponent of reform efforts as lawmakers respond to weeks of protests over the police killings of Black people across the country. Despite years of demonstrations against police violence, data shows that law enforcement agencies killed more people last year than they did five years ago. Black people are killed at a far higher rate than white people. The rise comes even as violent crime has plummeted across the country for decades. Despite the falling crime numbers, America's policing budget has nearly tripled over the last 45 years...Police unions have increasingly come under fire after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Bob Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis Police union, defended the officers charged in Floyd's murder and described protesters as a "terrorist movement." Kroll complained that the officers involved in Floyd's death were "terminated without due process" and that "what is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd," whose criminal history mostly involved just nonviolent drug and theft charges...As a result, many in the labor movement have pushed to disassociate police unions from other public sector unions. In Seattle, the King County Labor Council, a coalition of 150 unions representing 100,000 workers, expelled the Seattle police union last week.  "The consequence of police abusing [collective bargaining] power is that people end up dead," Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law and a member of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama, told Vox. "That is happening at a significant rate and that's just a completely different context from the rest of the public sector."

  • Unions Fend Off Membership Exodus in 2 Years Since Janus Ruling

    June 26, 2020

    Public-sector unions were largely able to stave off a membership exodus in the two years since the U.S. Supreme Court barred them from collecting mandatory fees, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of federal disclosures. The court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME on June 27, 2018 that unions could no longer collect mandatory “fair share” fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining, reversing a 40-year precedent that let unions charge partial dues. These agency fee payers, as they were known, paid a lower rate than full members, whose dues also support the union’s political activity. But the high court sided with conservative petitioners, who argued that fair share fees in the public-sector violated the First Amendment. The Labor Department disclosures show that many unions were able to convert passive fee payers into full-time members, though the results vary by union. Questions remain whether the unions’ strategy is sustainable in the long run, particularly during a pandemic that has wiped out local government budgets and snarled traditional organizing efforts. “The tax base is just cratering—you have so much reduced economic activity, people aren’t paying,” said Sharon Block, a former Obama administration official who directs the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “State and local governments have to have balanced budgets, they can’t pass a trillion-dollar relief bill, so any shortfall is devastating.” The impact of the Janus decision could take on new proportions if the justices agree to consider whether public-sector unions have to pay back previously collected mandatory agency fees. Lower courts thus far have rejected a slew of lawsuits seeking refunds, finding that unions relied on what was then valid law when they required nonmembers to pay fees.

  • The Workplace Powers That Employees Need

    June 24, 2020

    A few weeks ago, Angely Lambert was serving customers at a McDonald’s on a bustling commercial strip in Oakland, California, when she started to feel ill on the job. Her sharp headache and dull body aches bothered her enough that she asked if she could go home, she told me, but a manager insisted that she finish her shift....Frightened, angry, essential: This is American labor during the coronavirus pandemic. Decades of economic trends and legal shifts have tilted the balance of power in the employer-employee relationship toward corporations and away from workers. This means that, months into the pandemic, millions of low-wage workers are still facing an impossible choice: their lives or their livelihood. But it need not be this way. And as businesses reopen, workers such as Lambert need more say in how... “Economic issues are life-and-death issues,” says Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “What COVID has done is illustrate the life-or-death nature of those economic issues in a very accelerated time frame.” ...Workers have a voice, and the government needs to let them use it, giving employees such as Lambert more of a say in creating and maintaining a safe workplace. Clean Slate for Worker Power, an advocacy group led by Block and Benjamin Sachs of Harvard Law School, is pushing for new rules to require open businesses to have a worker-elected “safety steward,” who would make sure a given workplace is complying with local and federal laws. They also propose that the government set up commissions to negotiate workplace-safety standards, business sector by business sector rather than one burger joint or nursing home at a time, and to help workers organize online. Because demanding safe conditions should not be a firing offense, the government could also pass just-cause dismissal statutes to protect workers from retaliation by their employers.

  • How COVID turned a spotlight on weak worker rights

    June 24, 2020

    As the economy reopens after the COVID-19 shutdowns, businesses are taking a varied, often patchwork approach to ensuring health and safety for their workers, and much uncertainty persists regarding employers’ obligations and employees’ rights. The Gazette spoke with labor law experts 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), about how the pandemic has turned a spotlight on the lack of clear workplace protections in general, and in particular for women and people of color, who were disproportionately represented among those deemed essential. Block and Sachs recently co-authored a report urging that U.S. labor law be rebuilt from the ground up. On June 24, they will release the report “Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response.”

  • How police unions became so powerful — and how they can be tamed

    June 24, 2020

    In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by now-former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Derek Chauvin, few have been inclined to defend Chauvin or his colleagues who stood by and watched as he suffocated Floyd to death. Few, that is, except Bob Kroll...Kroll’s statements illustrate a central challenge in American efforts to transform policing: Police unions, the groups that represent police officers, are a powerful force that stands in the way of holding police accountable...Some veteran labor lawyers and academic labor activists are also opening up to the idea of sharply limiting police union power, recognizing this as an unusual case. A group of faculty at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations school — Ifeoma Ajunwa, Virginia Doellgast, Shannon Gleeson, Kate Griffith, and Verónica Martínez-Matsuda — argued in a public statement that the labor movement “must also acknowledge that contemporary police unions have contributed to racism.” Benjamin Sachs, the Kestenbaum professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School and a leading voice in labor law debates, published a blog post suggesting openness to limiting what issues police unions can legally bargain over, perhaps excluding from bargaining matters like discipline for police who beat or kill civilians. “The consequence of police abusing [collective bargaining] power is that people end up dead,” Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law and a member of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama, told me. “That is happening at a significant rate and that’s just a completely different context from the rest of the public sector” or unionism generally.

  • How We Can Reform Police Unions To Address Systemic Racism

    June 22, 2020

    The weeks of outrage after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd have made police reform feel more urgent and achievable than ever. As city and state officials across the country debate how to prevent police brutality, law enforcement unions have emerged as a key impediment to reform. The political power of police unions has helped them secure strong job protections ― too strong, reform proponents said...Rather than strip away bargaining rights from police unions, Malin said reform proponents might consider expanding the universe of what those unions bargain for. In general, employers have to discuss only certain mandatory subjects, such as wages and other working conditions. But there could be a way to bring broader community concerns into play...The concept is known as bargaining for the common good. By working together, unions and community groups can advance common goals that benefit both workers and the people they serve...Bargaining for the common good is a central feature of Clean Slate, a sweeping proposal for labor law reform that the Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program is spearheading. The professors leading that, Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block, said communities could be looking at ways to apply the concept to law enforcement in order to curb killings and address racism. They are now leading another project to brainstorm ideas for reforming police unions. “The problem is not public sector unions,” Block said. “The problem is police unions, and the lack of accountability structures that police unions have negotiated.” Of course, plenty of police unions may not willingly bargain in the interest of reform supporters. In that case, maybe they could be forced to ― either by opening up bargaining sessions to public oversight or by formally giving community groups a seat at the table when unions hammer out contracts with cities. “Bringing community groups into the bargaining process is something definitely worth considering, … the idea being that certain collective bargaining processes have such profound impacts on the community,” Sachs said. “The argument for it seems pretty clear.”

  • Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

    May 19, 2020

    Wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests over working conditions have erupted across the US throughout the coronavirus pandemic as “essential” workers have demanded better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders are hoping the protests can lead to permanent change. Norma Kennedy, an employee at an American Apparel clothing plant is one of those people. Kennedy along with dozens of other workers walked off her job in Selma, Alabama, on 23 April after two workers tested positive for coronavirus. The plant has remained open during the pandemic to manufacture face masks for a US army contract...Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered protests throughout the pandemic as workers across various industries, including food service, meat processing, retail, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare have come together to protest about issues, many of which were apparent before the coronavirus...Uber and American Apparel did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said it was too early to tell if these worker actions around the US will have a lasting impact. “These walkouts show that essential workers don’t want to be treated any more as if they were disposable. They are demanding a voice in how their companies respond to the pandemic. Having a voice is a life-and-death matter now more than ever,” said Block. “Success will be a matter of whether consumers and policymakers will be inspired by these workers’ courage.”

  • “Disposable workers” doing essential jobs

    May 13, 2020

    Millions of Americans are risking their lives to feed us and bring meals, toiletries and new clothes to our doorsteps — but their pay, benefits and working conditions do not reflect the dangers they face at work. Why it matters: People who stock grocery shelves and deliver packages never expected to be on the front lines of a national crisis, and now they're playing a vital, but undervalued, role...What's happening: Some companies, including Amazon and Walmart, increased hourly pay or distributed cash bonuses to low-wage workers when the pandemic began — in recognition of the hazards involved — but many of those pay bumps are expiring as employers worry about how much longer the pandemic will last...The bottom line: The coronavirus crisis is exposing the ugly ways in which low-wage workers are treated — by employers and customers alike. "But for the first time, the workplace conditions of low-wage workers are directly relevant to the whole country," says Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School...Says Block: "The fates of workers and consumers are tied together in a way that the American public has never known before."

  • Trump’s Plan to Reopen U.S. Puts Labor’s Scalia in Limelight

    May 7, 2020

    Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia’s spot aboard Air Force One for a trip to a Honeywell International Inc. plant in Arizona on Tuesday was the latest sign the low-profile Cabinet member with a familiar last name is primed for an increasingly public role in the Trump administration’s efforts to recover the economy from the coronavirus pandemic. Scalia’s Labor Department oversees many of the paid leave, workplace safety, and training programs the administration is likely to turn to as President Donald Trump shifts focus from combating the health-care crisis to restarting the nation’s economy...Business groups and some Republican officials expect Scalia to get a more public spot in leading the charge to get Americans back to work. That includes pushing for Republicans’ top legislative and policy priority: legal liability protections for companies operating during the pandemic...The labor chief is already under fire for his management of the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Worker advocates have accused OSHA of being too lax in its response to the pandemic by ignoring calls to issue emergency safety standards that would be mandatory for businesses. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka seized on that issue in a letter to Scalia last week...Scalia argued OSHA’s approach of periodically updating guidance for employers is a better way of responding to the contagion because scientific knowledge of Covid-19 continues to evolve. “At almost every decision point he has opted against the position that would be the most protective and compassionate,” said Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and a senior DOL official under President Barack Obama.

  • The Technology 202: Coronavirus raises the stakes in new court fight for gig worker benefits

    May 6, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic is lending the battle over Uber and Lyft's classification of its drivers fresh urgency. California is suing the companies for allegedly breaking a landmark state law that went into effect earlier this year that would reclassify many gig workers as employees, my colleague Faiz Siddiqui reports. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is among the California attorneys bringing the suit, said the ride-hail companies are preventing drivers from enjoying many worker protections and accessing safety net programs by continuing to classify them as independent contractors...And Uber and Lyft drivers do not have mandated sick leave because of their work classification. The  companies have taken steps to expand sick leave during the pandemic, but drivers have raised concerns that it's difficult to access.  “What it's done is laid bare more the consequences of allowing companies to opt out of the social safety net,” Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told me. “For a lot of workers, those consequences have been very apparent for a while. What's happening right now is the public is being forced to see this in a different way when there is such a groundswell of workers who are dealing with those consequences all at the same time.”

  • Fired in a Pandemic ‘Because We Tried to Start a Union,’ Workers Say

    April 28, 2020

    Truck drivers and warehouse workers at Cort Furniture Rental in New Jersey had spent months trying to unionize in the hopes of securing higher wages and better benefits. By early this year, they thought they were on the cusp of success. But when the coronavirus arrived, Cort, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, laid off its truck drivers and replaced them with contractors, workers said. The union-organizing plans were dashed. “They fired us because we tried to start a union,” said Julio Perez, who worked in Cort’s warehouse in North Bergen, N.J. As American companies lay off millions of workers, some appear to be taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target workers who are in or hope to join unions, according to interviews with more than two dozen workers, labor activists and employment lawyers...The pattern is playing out across the American business landscape. “This is a continuation of behavior that has become all too common, of employers being willing to use increasingly aggressive tactics to stop unionizing,” said Sharon Block, a former National Labor Relations Board member appointed by former President Barack Obama. “The pandemic has given them another tool in their toolbox.”

  • New proposal to steer nation through COVID-19 crisis would give a voice to frontline workers

    April 24, 2020

    As the coronavirus has spread throughout America so has the outcry from frontline workers anxious about their livelihoods—and their lives. Since the onset of the pandemic, walkouts and protests have been staged by, among others, packers and shippers in Amazon warehouses, those on the line at a Smithfield pork processing plant, Instacart supermarket shoppers, cooks and cashiers at McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, trash collectors in Pittsburgh, and nurses around the country. Today, scholars from the Clean Slate for Worker Power project at Harvard Law School and the Roosevelt Institute will unveil a proposal that seeks to channel not only employees’ indignation, but also their insight, into a mechanism that can help steer the nation through the crisis... “The medical folks need to take care of stopping the virus, but policymakers need to get the structural problems with the economy under control,” says Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program, which runs the Clean Slate project. “Maybe what we’re going through now will open up some imaginations.” The proposal, which is intended to serve as the basis for the drafting of federal legislation, has three parts.

  • The Future of the Regulatory State

    April 24, 2020

    An obscure agency housed within the Office of Management and Budget has the power of life and death over all Americans. You may not have heard of it, but you’re living under its dictates. Every manner in which government acts flows through this team of fewer than 50 economists, who quantify and qualify whether it’s worth it to avoid noxious fumes in the atmosphere, or to prevent harmful chemicals from being ingested, or even to stop prison rape. The agency is called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and it’s been around in one form or another for half a century. It uses centralized planning and cost-benefit analysis to determine the efficacy of regulations across the federal government, and historically this has delayed or even blocked rules that could save lives...We have assembled a series of voices to discuss the future of OIRA and the regulatory state in the next Democratic administration. Tucker and Nayak expand on their reasoning for why they see a boosted OIRA as the best opportunity for strong progressive governance. Sharon Block of Harvard Law gives her opinion for why the coronavirus pandemic makes the concept of a bulked-up OIRA even more urgent.

  • Congress Must Seize the Spotlight Back From Trump

    April 21, 2020

    Next Thursday, April 23, the CPC will convene the first in a series of remote congressional hearings to highlight bold and necessary proposals for responding to the pandemic and to the economic crisis that has developed as a result. Thursday’s hearing will consider mass unemployment, with a focus on “Preventing Layoffs: Keeping People Employed Through Worksharing and a National Paycheck Guarantee.” ...Pocan and CPC cochair Pramila Jayapal have since March been advocating for proposals that would have the federal government intervene in a major way to help businesses keep workers on the payroll at a point when unemployment claims are surging to record levels. Last week, Jayapal introduced the Paycheck Guarantee Act, a plan to provide a three-month federal guarantee for 100 percent of worker salaries of up to $100,000 to ensure employers keep workers on the payroll and continue to provide employer-sponsored benefits...This is the kind of big, bold response that needs a hearing. And Pocan, a cosponsor of the Paycheck Guarantee Act and a leading advocate for providing protections for small businesses and their employees with an expansion of existing state workshare programs, says the CPC will provide it. Organized along the lines of a traditional House hearing, the “Preventing Layoffs” hearing will be chaired by Pocan and Jayapal and feature expert testimony from Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, and Amanda Ballantyne, the director of the Main Street Alliance, a group that advocates for small businesses.

  • Foundations and Donors Step Up Grants to Help Workers Hurt by the Pandemic

    April 20, 2020

    In the coronavirus era, the heroes drive delivery trucks, bag groceries, and clean hospital floors. As those employees have stayed on the job, risking their lives to ensure others can stay comfortable in seclusion, a new movement is underway to help those workers. Foundations that have long supported labor groups are stepping up their funding and recruiting others to join a movement that some experts think could lead to sweeping policy changes. On Tuesday, a group of eight grant makers and individual donors committed $7.1 million to the Families and Workers Fund, which will make grants for emergencies and for advocacy efforts to push for long-term policy efforts to reshape labor regulation...Other labor nonprofits are building support for policy changes that would benefit employees. The Clean Slate for Worker Power at Harvard University Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, for instance, used grants from the Ford, Hewlett, Kellogg, and Public Welfare foundations to produce a 130-page set of policy recommendations that would help worker groups generate revenue, provide better or portable health coverage for workers, and require that 40 percent of corporate board seats are chosen by workers, among other things. Sharon Block, the program’s executive director, says the project will continue to flesh out a labor agenda. "We are not going to alleviate the pain that so many workers are in tomorrow," she says. "What we want to do is provide source material for groups that are trying to make systemic change. We want to provide some of the answers."

  • Don’t let Big Gig game the system

    April 20, 2020

    An article by Sharon Block and Mike Firestone: In its sweeping response to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress threw a financial lifeline to millions of Americans and made so-called “gig economy” workers, like Uber drivers, eligible for unemployment assistance for the first time. But the economic crisis begs the question why Uber drivers weren’t eligible already. The answer is simple. It’s because, unlike other Massachusetts businesses, Uber doesn’t pay unemployment insurance to cover its workers or extend them other crucial protections, and the major gig-economy companies (we’ll call them Big Gig) fight every effort to require it. This opposition left millions of workers without a safety net when the bottom fell out of our economy. Massachusetts should continue to fight Big Gig’s tactics to deny full protection to workers, but in this moment of crisis, the state should take new action to require Uber to pay for benefits their drivers so desperately need and deserve. It’s time to end Uber’s free ride. States like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California have fought for years to protect gig workers by demanding that DoorDash, Lyft, and other Big Gig companies stop misclassifying their drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors instead of as employees. Through misclassification, Big Gig companies have flouted state laws requiring employers to cover the cost of unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, and sick days.

  • Coronavirus may bring a labor reckoning for Amazon

    April 9, 2020

    From the Bubonic plague in the Middle Ages to the 1918 flu epidemic, pandemics in the past have wreaked havoc on — and restructured — how society treats its workers. With pressure on mega-retailers like Amazon to deliver essential goods to people stuck at home — coupled with increased scrutiny over labor practices and a long-simmering labor movement that has been nipping at the heels of these huge suppliers — could this coronavirus pandemic bring about the labor reckoning that activists have been seeking? “It should,” said Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “I certainly hope that one of the lessons we’ll learn from this horrible experience is how important so many low-wage workers are, and how precarious their positions are.” ...Still, it seems like labor pressure may be building elsewhere. A group of warehouse workers in Chicago staged a demonstration on March 30 as well. Workers in Detroit did the same two days later, and Amazon quickly announced thereafter that they would provide masks and temperature checks in warehouses, the Verge reported. But Block told Digital Trends she was unsure if the labor movement can successfully leverage this moment to have its demands met. “Part of recovering from this nightmare will be giving workers the tools they need to have the voice they’re demanding,” Block said. A post-coronavirus world could offer opportunities for workers to snatch more rights for themselves.

  • How states and employers can use work sharing to avoid more layoffs

    April 7, 2020

    An article by Sharon Block and Terri Gerstein: An unprecedented 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance across the country over the last two weeks with more likely to come. Many employers are responding to shutdown orders, lack of cash flow, and the crisis by laying people off. Leaders have enacted measures to encourage employers to avoid more layoffs, such as conditioning business loans on maintaining payroll and providing tax credits for payroll expenses. There is a little known program within our existing unemployment system, however, that would enable us to avert more layoffs. Most companies and workers have not heard of it, but work sharing, also known as “short time compensation” is a way to avoid layoffs and keep people employed while reducing payroll. It was widely used during the Great Recession. In the book “Policies to Address Poverty in America,” Melissa Kearney and Ben Harris noted that work sharing programs “played a substantial role in ameliorating the rise in unemployment in many countries” when the Great Recession hit hard. Rhode Island has made good use of work sharing, with claims accounting for a sixth of state unemployment claims in 2009. This proven approach should be getting far more attention right now.

  • In Coronavirus Response, Republicans and Democrats Like Big Government

    April 7, 2020

    In the scramble to contain the coronavirus financial fallout, U.S. policy makers have embraced an ambitious big-government agenda—from new worker protections to a guaranteed minimum income—that could redefine Washington’s role in the economy. The evolving emergency response playbook, adopted by the White House and congressional leaders from both parties, draws from key elements of the liberal activist platform honed over the past decade...Organized labor has also won new protections. One new rule says that larger corporate aid recipients are required to honor existing collective bargaining agreements for the duration of their federal loans and two years beyond. That provision flows from the lingering political fallout from the bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis. “Companies that took bailout money said, ‘Let’s share the sacrifice, we have to renegotiate our agreements,’” said Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard Law School. “Then shareholders benefited quickly during the recovery, while it took workers—especially auto workers—a long time to get back to where they were before,” said Ms. Block, who was a labor adviser in the Obama White House.

  • How Trump Could Dismantle Workers’ Rights with Another Four Years

    April 6, 2020

    From the perspective of the liberal policy establishment, Donald Trump has launched an aggressive and unprecedented assault on workers’ rights and the labor movement. From the perspective of the right, Trump has governed on labor almost exactly as any other Republican president might have...One way Trump has taken aim at unions is through the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, which is the federal agency tasked with protecting the rights of private-sector workers and encouraging collective bargaining. Private-sector workers are barred from bringing workplace grievances through the courts themselves, so filing complaints with the NLRB—which has more than two dozen regional offices spread across the country—is how employees can seek redress if they feel their rights have been violated...The decisions already issued by Trump’s NLRB could weaken the impact of California’s new labor law by confusing workers and deterring other states from moving forward with their own solutions. “I think it is probably very confusing to hear that you are not an employee and don’t have a right to collectively bargain under federal law, but that you are an employee for the purposes of California law,” said Sharon Block, an Obama Labor Department official and now a labor expert at Harvard Law School. “When labor rights are more complicated it makes it less likely that they will be invoked. It’s good lawmakers are moving forward in California, but this counter-signal from the federal government could have a chilling effect on workers who might otherwise assert their rights.”

  • With strikes and a ‘sick out,’ some grocery and delivery workers take defiant stance: One-time bonuses, temporary pay hikes aren’t enough

    April 1, 2020

    Temporary wage hikes. Special bonuses. Paid sick time. In recent weeks, tensions are on the rise between grocery workers and their employers, spurring many to take public action. Employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods planned a “sick out” Tuesday, while some drivers who deliver Whole Foods groceries are calling for more protections. Thousands of people have signed an online petition circulated by Trader Joe’s employees. On Monday, some Instacart workers held a nationwide strike. And a major grocery union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is advocating for workers to have access to coronavirus testing and protective gear...Grocers don’t have the depths of experience dealing with dangerous work, said Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Obama advisor. With health-care workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires certain standards, such as employer-provided protective gear for hospital workers to wear when they draw a patient’s blood. She said there are no similar rules for grocery workers now thrust into a similar situation — and there’s few ways to quickly force those requirements. “Whether the law requires it or not, this is just a moment that it’s incredibly important for employers to listen to their workers,” she said. “It’s very concerning that there are a lot of really life-and-death decisions being made and so few workers have the ability to be part of the decision that drives those answers.”