This op-ed was originally published in Maryland Matters.
Although vaccination rates continue to rise and coverage on COVID-19 is fading away from prominent news dashboards, our rates are still higher than in summer 2020. While we still adapt to living and working with COVID-19, we must prepare for future public health emergencies so we do not lose another year figuring out our response.
While many provisions of the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act (MEWPA) expired when Gov. Larry Hogan ended Maryland’s state of emergency, one important, future-looking provision remained. Under the law, the Maryland Department of Health is required to develop a template catastrophic health emergency preparedness plan.
The statutory requirement is supposed to provide a plan we can reach for if we are faced with future pandemics. We need to have the best practices, plans and lessons learned compiled and prepared for the next disaster.
A recent Maryland law requires the state's Commissioner of Labor and Industry, in consultation with its Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, to develop and adopt regulations that require employers to protect employees from heat-related illness caused by heat stress. Those standards are due by October 2022.
The law also requires the state to hold four public meetings to collect input from residents. This month, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Division (MOSH) scheduled those meetings, and I testified at the September 20 session.
As I stated during the hearing, CPR is pleased that Maryland will issue a standard requiring employers to protect workers from heat-related illnesses this session. I and other advocates urged MOSH to address the dangers of working in the heat and the immediate need for the standard.
As noted in my testimony, farmworkers are predominantly Black and brown, and many are from Indigenous …
Soaring rates of voluntary resignations, widespread labor shortages, and the ubiquity of "Help Wanted" signs put the "labor" back in the Labor Day holiday this year, as employers struggle to respond to a jobs market that seems, for once, to have given workers the upper hand.
Story after story blames current labor market conditions on "burnout," an occupational phenomenon the World Health Organization describes as a combination of symptoms that includes emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. "Burnout — and opportunity — are driving record wave of quitting," the Deseret (Utah) News declared in August.
But what if the diagnosis — or rather, what we call it — is a symptom of the real problem? Naming the phenomenon for its toll on workers, rather than for the working conditions that drive it, skews our understanding of what's wrong and how to fix it.
The word "burnout" calls to mind …
New dynamics are shaping the labor market, labor organizing and labor policies
Economists are scratching their heads furiously — why is there a labor shortage amidst high unemployment? Everywhere employers are posting “Help Wanted” signs but still face shortage of workers. Construction projects are stymied, retail shops are half-staffed and produce rots in the fields all because of a lack of workers. There is no fresh supply of “essential workers” who are surging into the job market.
The conservative view, that people don’t want to work and that the unemployment benefits are a disincentive, has been debunked by the evidence. An academic study analyzed the effect of cutting unemployment benefits (done in 26 states which are all but one led by Republican governors). On employment rates, the impact was negligible — only 7 of 8 people who were dropped from unemployment rolls actually gained jobs. But for households …
Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.
In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.
Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.
People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according …
In February, Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, reintroduced the FAIR Act. The legislation would protect workers and consumers by eliminating restrictive "forced arbitration" clauses in employment and consumer contracts. The bill would also allow consumers and workers to agree to arbitration after a dispute occurs if doing so is in their best interests. A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate.
Arbitration — a process where third parties resolve legal disputes out of court — is a standard precondition to most, if not all, nonunion employment and consumer contracts. It's considered "forced" because few consumers and workers are aware that they are agreeing to mandatory arbitration when they sign contracts. In most contracts, arbitration is imposed on a take-it-or-leave-it basis before any dispute even occurs; refusing to sign is rarely a realistic option because other sellers …
To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.
Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.
This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.
Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …
Political Interference from White House Regulatory Office May Have Played a Role
The Labor Department’s emergency COVID standard, released today, is too limited and weak to effectively protect all workers from the ongoing pandemic. The workers left at greatest risk are people of color and the working poor.
Workers justifiably expected an enforceable general industry standard to protect them from COVID-19, and the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has been calling for such a standard since June 2020. But what emerged after more than six weeks of closed-door White House review was a largely unenforceable voluntary guidance document, with only health care workers receiving the benefit of an enforceable standard.
The interference with the COVID standard by the White House regulatory office, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), sends the wrong signal about the Biden administration's commitment to improving the regulatory review process, which …
Today is World Oceans Day, a time to consider how ocean policy connects to human and environmental health. This year’s theme of “Life and Livelihoods” comes as our federal government is finally making energy jobs and climate justice a priority. It is also an opportunity to reflect on one of the most devastating events to impact Gulf Coast waters and those who depend on them — the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Eleven years on, workers continue to raise the alarm over the spill’s long-term health impacts, fighting against a backdrop of weak safety regulations.
Eleven workers were killed and 17 injured in the oil rig explosion that caused the largest marine oil spill in history, flooding over 200 million gallons of oil into the Louisiana coast for more than 87 days. The disaster and subsequent media frenzy rallied politicians and the public against …
It’s heartening to see that not all of the noise generated by the 2020 presidential campaign has dissipated in these post-election times.
President Biden pledged last week to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 — making good on a big campaign promise and possibly nudging some of us out of the still-skeptical category.
When I think about climate, I think about equity. Low-income people spend more of their paychecks on energy and transportation costs. Those sweet rebates on electric vehicles? They don’t go to people who can’t afford a new car, much less an electric one. As CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett notes, environmental degradation creates “sacrifice zones” — and communities of color pay the price. We simply cannot address climate change without addressing racism, and environmental racism in particular.
When I think about climate, I also think about jobs. Jobs that don …