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April 30, 2020 by Robert Verchick

Did FEMA Take Your Mask?

No one really expected FEMA’s leadership of the coronavirus response to be inspiring or even, to put it bluntly, moderately competent. Still, I’ve been puzzled by several reports from state leaders and others that federal authorities have been confiscating purchased medical supplies without explanation or, at least in one case, compensation.

I don’t mean situations where a federal agency outbids someone or orders a vendor to sell to the federal government instead. That happens, too, and the practice is controversial. I’m talking about instances in which federal officials show up unannounced at a warehouse or a port and physically seize crates of medical gear that had been on their way to some needy hospital or test center that had paid or agreed to pay for them. The agent flashes a badge, the goods are trucked out, and no one knows where they go.

According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, this kind of thing has happened in several states, from Washington to New Jersey to Florida. One case involved a shipment of three million N95 face masks that the state of Massachusetts had ordered from BJ’s Wholesale Club …

April 27, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Tomorrow, April 28, is Workers' Memorial Day, a day the labor movement established to mourn workers killed on the job and to renew the fight for the living. This year, as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, taking its toll on workers and their families, we’re reminded more than ever of how critical it is to guarantee all workers the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Even before COVID-19, a typical day in the United States saw 14 workers killed on the job – hardworking people who set out for work, never to return home. In 2018, 5,250 workers – one worker every 100 minutes – died on the job. Black and Latinx workers were hit hardest in 2018, with a 16 percent increase from 2017 in black worker deaths and a 6 percent increase in Latinx worker deaths. As in years past, tens of thousands of additional …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

April 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Editor's Note: With COVID-19 cases contracted at work on the rise, labor and employment attorneys, businesses, advocates, and workers are all wondering if their state’s workers’ compensation law will apply, and alternatively, if an ill worker could file a lawsuit against their employer. The answers to these questions are not simple, as workers’ compensation laws vary by state, and when it comes to occupational diseases, the applicability of workers’ comp is often even more complicated.

In a recent post on Workers’ Compensation Law Prof Blog, CPR Member Scholar Michael Duff discusses the so-called workers’ compensation “grand bargain,” under which workers receive no-fault benefits for work-related injuries and illnesses in exchange for giving up their right to file a lawsuit against their employer. In his post, Duff explores the circumstances in which a worker who has contracted COVID-19 at work may still have the right to file …

April 20, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, reports abound of essential frontline workers laboring without such basic protective gear as masks, gloves, soap, or water; with improper distancing between workstations and coworkers; and in workplaces alongside infected colleagues. So far, nearly 4,000 workers have filed complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), raising concerns about health and safety conditions inside the workplace. Yet the agency has been largely absent at a time it is most needed.

Shamefully, as COVID-19 illnesses rise in slaughterhouses, grocery stores, hospitals, and other worksites across the nation, the agency has chosen to go against its very mission of protecting America’s workers, ignoring calls to adopt emergency standards and rolling back its enforcement efforts.

Since early March, unions, advocates, and workers have called on OSHA to take immediate action to adopt an emergency temporary standard and subsequent permanent standard …

April 16, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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On April 29, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) will host a webinar to discuss the public health and policy implications of COVID-19 and to highlight the many policy parallels between the pandemic and climate change. The speakers include:

  • Daniel Farber, JD – CPR Member Scholar and Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law, Energy, and Environment at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD – Senior Scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Senior Scientist in the Department of Environmental Health & Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH – Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School

While data on COVID-19’s effects continues …

April 15, 2020 by Laurie Ristino
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Americans are experiencing a tidal wave of food insecurity related to the coronavirus pandemic. Historic unemployment claims and surging demand at food banks are laying bare the precarious circumstances of many of our citizens and the inadequacy of our social safety net. We can learn from the coronavirus epidemic--and we must in order to prevent human suffering in the future. Taking stock and then reforming our policies should start now while legislative momentum is possible--not after the country has moved past the apex of the disease.

In a recent episode of the podcast, Good Law/Bad Law, I joined host Aaron Freiwald to discuss the vital connection between the 2018 Farm Bill, the pandemic, and the startling food insecurity so many Americans are now facing. Along the way, we touched on how the current crisis is a harbinger of future food insecurity given climate change and growing …

April 13, 2020 by Thomas McGarity, Wendy Wagner
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Over the last month, the scripts of the daily White House COVID-19 briefings have followed a familiar pattern: President Trump leads off with assurances that the crisis remains “totally under control” and that miracle cures are just around the corner. Then agency experts come to the microphone and tell a very different story.

For example, on March 19, the president reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “very, very quickly” approved a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for treating COVID-19 that it had previously approved for lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis. Later in the briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-time head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned listeners that controlled testing would have to be completed before we know whether the drug works on the novel coronavirus. And FDA later warned that it had definitely not approved hydroxychloroquine for fighting the virus.

The warnings …

April 10, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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If you were the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as news of the coronavirus pandemic hit, what would you do to implement your mission to protect public health?

The best answer has three parts: first, determine what specific categories of pollution could exacerbate the disease; second, assemble staff experts to develop lists of companies that produce that pollution; and, third, figure out how the federal government could ensure that companies do their best to mitigate emissions.

Rather than take that approach, EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine issued a memo late last month offering businesses assurance that EPA would overlook certain regulatory violations for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Public interest groups, already alarmed by the possibility that regulatory rollbacks at the agency would continue at a relentless pace despite the pandemic, were apoplectic …

April 9, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Today, the Center for Progressive Reform joined the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health in calling on the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) to retract its outrageous guidance that allows employers to send workers potentially exposed to coronavirus back to work without any guaranteed protections. This flawed guidance is weaker than previous guidance, fails to protect workers, and is not based on scientific evidence.

“CDC’s flawed guidance contradicts its previous guidance for businesses and its current recommendations for members of the public who’ve been exposed to coronavirus, which is to quarantine for 14 days after a potential exposure,” said Matthew Shudtz, Executive Director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “Forcing our nation’s essential workers to remain on the job after exposure poses great risks, not just to their health, but to their coworkers, their families, and the community at …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 9, 2021

It's Time to Give Workers Power to Enforce OSH Act

Feb. 5, 2021

Paid Sick Leave Is a Civil Rights Issue, Too

Feb. 3, 2021

CPR Joins Call for Biden Administration to Make Workplace Safety a Top Priority

Jan. 27, 2021

Maryland Weighs Legislation to Protect Food and Farm Workers Amid Pandemic

Jan. 21, 2021

Biden Tapped Frederick, Hughes, Rosenthal for OSHA’s Leadership Team. Here's How They Can Fix the Agency.

Dec. 10, 2020

Environmental Enforcement in the COVID-19 Era

Oct. 5, 2020

We Need to Better Protect Communities from the Climate Crisis, COVID-19, and Wildfires