Sharon Block

  • November 16, 2017
    Guest Post


    by Celine McNicholas, Labor Counsel, Economic Policy Institute and Sharon Block, Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

    After the news that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and assaulting women in the movie industry for decades, millions of women shared their stories with the hashtag #metoo. The social media campaign shined a light on a fact that to many women: sexual harassment is a daily fact of life in the workplace. Many American corporations foster—or at least tolerate—widespread, egregious sexual harassment of their workers, even all these years after U.S. law first recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. As the Supreme Court considers the first case of its term, National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, we hope they have read the stories about Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and other men, as well as the millions of people who spoke up online.

  • August 15, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Sharon Block, Terri Gerstein and Jim Tierney

    *This piece was originally posted to On Labor

    Fighting the dangers of tobacco, seeking redress for homeowners during the mortgage crisis, and most recently standing up against the Muslim ban – state attorneys general have long been at the forefront of efforts to protect the well-being of the people of their states. In recent months, progressive state attorneys general have emerged as some of the nation’s foremost champions of civil rights and of humane, sensible policy in the face of declining protection at the federal level. As income inequality grows and too many American workers struggle to get a fair deal in our economy, the role of state attorneys general in enforcing statutes that protect workers’ economic interests has taken on new importance.  To build on the energy and expertise of these public servants, under the auspices of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, we recently hosted attorneys from the offices of 11 state attorneys general last week to discuss strategies and best practices for enforcing labor laws.

  • July 6, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on onlabor.

    by Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

    On Friday, the Trump Administration finally took a position in the Fifth Circuit litigation over the validity of the Obama Administration’s rule to raise the overtime salary threshold to $47,476 from the $23,660 level that has been in place since 2004. On the eve of the rule’s implementation in 2016, Judge Amos Mazzant (E.D. Tex.) had issued a nation-wide injunction enjoining the Department from enforcing the rule. Judge Mazzant found that the Department lacked the authority under the Fair Labor Standards Act to impose a salary threshold for determining overtime eligibility – effectively invalidating every overtime regulation since 1938. Just prior to Inauguration Day, the Obama Administration filed a brief in the Fifth Circuit asking the appeals court to reverse the district court’s decision and lift the injunction, asserting both that the Department had the authority impose a salary threshold and that it had set the threshold at an appropriate level.

    The Trump Administration walked away from defending the new salary threshold while attempting to maintain its authority to issue in its own rule. In its reply brief, the Department of Labor continued to defend its authority to set a salary threshold in conjunction with a duties test. The Department rejected Judge Mazzant’s assertion that the statute compelled that the Department adjudge overtime eligibility strictly on the basis of a salaried employee’s duties. The Department did not, however, ask the Fifth Circuit to affirm the validity of the Obama Administration rule. Instead, the Department signaled that it was abandoning the Obama rule and that it would be revisiting the question of the appropriate salary threshold, telling the court that it “has decided not to advocate for the specific salary level ($913 per week) set in the final rule at this time and intends to undertake further rulemaking to determine what the salary level should be.”

  • May 17, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Sen. Harkin is the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

    This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which I chair, held a hearing on the full slate of five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Mark Gaston Pearce, Richard F. Griffin, Jr., Sharon Block, Harry I. Johnson III, and Philip Andrew Miscimarra. These are vitally important nominations because the enforcement of our labor laws is essential to the growth of a strong middle class and to the smooth functioning of businesses large and small across the country. Without Congressional action, the NLRB will go dark in August -- which could have a truly troubling impact on our economy.

    Workers and employers alike rely on the fact that the Board will enforce our labor laws, and enforce contracts between labor and management.  For the thousands of American workers fired every year for trying to organize a union in their workplace, an NLRB out of commission means that those workers would have to wait years before they could get their job back or any back pay for lost wages. From the business perspective, the NLRB also ensures that unions do not step outside the law in their interactions with workers or employers. Perhaps that is why a Senior Counsel to the National Federal of Independent Businesses (NFIB) said that “to have the Board totally shut down would be a travesty.”

    Despite this agreement on the importance of the Board’s operations, in recent years, Congressional Republicans have waged unprecedented attacks on the NLRB.  While it appears that their real goal might be to repeal the National Labor Relations Act altogether, because they know that an attempt to repeal the law directly would surely fail, they have worked instead to dismantle the Board by attempting to hold up nominees or strip its funding. In the last Congress, House Republicans launched a series of efforts to shutter the NLRB, including voting to defund the Board entirely, and proposing a budget to force the Board to furlough all of its employees for most of 2011. Republicans have also proposed bills to abolish the NLRB and bills to limit its ability to enforce decisions and promulgate regulations.

    Of course, these efforts to undermine the Board are all part of a larger Republican assault on the unions and on collective bargaining in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  These attacks don’t just hurt unions -- they undermine the very existence of the American middle class.