Through the heroic legal efforts of our friends at Public Citizen and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, workers won a huge victory this week in federal court. A federal district court judge in Minnesota ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it eliminated line speed limits, and “cited mounds of evidence showing a relationship between high speeds and musculoskeletal injuries, lacerations, and amputations.” The judge vacated the Trump-era rule, showing that there is a limit to high line speeds — and corporate rapaciousness.
For the 500,000 workers in America’s meatpacking and poultry industry, few jobs have been more dangerous and less rewarding. Low wages, injury, and death have continued to characterize this workplace jungle since Upton Sinclair’s 1905 muckraking book The Jungle. (No relation, sadly.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the toll with 57,000 illnesses and at least 284 additional worker deathsamong meatpacking workers, according to reporting from the Food and Environment Reporting Network and the National Employment Law Project. Black and Brown workers, particularly, were devastated; 87 percent of all meatpacking workers infected are people of color, according to the CDC.
To add injury …
To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. This week, we spoke with Sarah Krakoff, professor of law at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an expert on Native American law, public lands and natural resources law, and environmental justice.
CPR: What motivated you to become an ally to Native Americans and equal justice in America? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration?
SK: My commitment grew out of anti-poverty and civil rights work I did while in law school, which included a very cursory introduction to the unique status and rights of Native nations. But my understanding …
Change is a natural phenomenon, though it is often met with resistance and skepticism. Women, who are responsible for countless social, cultural, political, scientific, and economic achievements that have shaped the world, have stood in the face of such resistance, particularly when confronted with unequal opportunity and rights.
International Women’s Day celebrates the changes made by women and calls for action to accelerate women’s equality. This year, International Women’s Day notes that a challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change.
At the Center for Progressive Reform, the women on our staff “choose to challenge” existing norms so that we may create a just America that works for all people and our planet. Below, our women staff describe what motivates them to work for all Americans.
Maggie Dewane, Digital Media Manager — My mother worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for …
As many of you know, I started as the Center for Progressive Reform's new executive director this month. I am thrilled to join CPR in this historic moment, to commit the next stage of my life to fight for the integrity and strength of our democracy, and to establish, as FDR said 90 years ago, "the purpose of government to see that not only the legitimate interests of the few are protected but that the welfare and rights of the many are conserved."
CPR's mission speaks to me personally. My own winding story saw me raised in the American South, defending refugees and human rights in Central America in the '80s, living in Cuba in the '90s, and, for the past 15 years, working at Oxfam to defend workers' rights and socially vulnerable communities in the United States. The fault lines of race and entitlement that …
A half century ago, hundreds of Black sanitation workers marched through Memphis carrying signs bearing four small words: "I am a man."
Their short slogan carried a powerful message: Low-paid Black workers are human, and they deserve to be treated as such. Their lives, to quote today's activists for racial justice, matter.
The slogan — and its larger campaign for racial and economic equity — challenged systemic oppression of Black people. And it took on underlying white supremacist beliefs that positioned them as less than human and unworthy of humane working conditions and pay.
The campaign was sparked by an incident on February 1, 1968, when Memphis city officials forced workers to collect garbage during a heavy rainstorm, according to The Washington Post. Two men took refuge from the rain in the back of their truck and were crushed when it malfunctioned. The city refused to compensate their …
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When the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was enacted 50 years ago, it was hailed as critical legislation that would make workplaces safer and healthier for all. Thanks to this law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made great strides toward protecting worker health and safety. Unfortunately, the law didn't go far enough then — and it doesn't go nearly far enough now.
The law, essentially unchanged since its enactment in 1970, has not kept up with the growing scale and changing nature of work in the 21st century. Rather, due to limited resources and authority and, at times, lack of political will, the agency has failed to address numerous well-known workplace hazards or emerging ones, like COVID-19, climate hazards, and artificial intelligence.
One of the …
All workers need the ability to earn paid sick days so they can take leave from their jobs to care for themselves or their loved ones when they are sick or injured. The coronavirus pandemic has made the need for this basic right — guaranteed to workers in other wealthy nations but not here in the United States — clearer than ever.
Paid sick leave is more than a workers’ rights issue. It’s also a civil rights issue.
Lawyers, engineers, and others in the higher-paying “professional” class are far more likely than frontline, lower-income workers to have access to paid sick leave, the American Civil Liberties Union recently noted. They’re also more likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic, putting them at far less risk of contracting COVID-19.
And they’re more likely to be white.
Due to long-standing structural inequities and intentional …
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has signaled a new openness to the concerns of our nation’s workers — and we at CPR are joining our allies today in calling on his administration to go much further to make workplace safety a top priority.
Biden’s early actions are auspicious. In his first days in office, Biden appointed qualified leaders to key labor posts and signed several executive orders to improve working conditions. Among those orders is one that directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue improved guidance to employers on protecting workers and to determine whether to issue an emergency standard to prevent and mitigate exposure to COVID-19.
Biden also withdrew an effort by the Trump administration to accelerate processing speeds at poultry plants, which would have forced workers to work faster and more closely together on the factory floor — and put workers …
The Maryland General Assembly is kicking into full gear — and we at the Center for Progressive Reform are tracking bills that would protect the health and safety of Maryland workers in the food and farm sectors. These protections are urgently needed to protect these workers from COVID-19 infections and keep the public healthy and safe. The bills we're watching would:
The Biden administration can reverse some of those actions quickly – for instance, as president, Joe Biden can undo Donald Trump’s executive orders with a stroke of the pen. On his first day in office, Biden used that power to start bringing the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization, and to rescind a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and orders restricting travel from several predominantly Muslim and African countries. He also ordered a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Undoing most regulatory …