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June 23, 2022 by Michael C. Duff

Justices Overturn Washington Workers' Compensation Law on a Strict Reading of Intergovernmental Immunity

This post was originally published by SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously struck down a Washington state law that was aimed at helping federal contract employees get workers' compensation for diseases arising from cleaning up nuclear waste.

The case, United States v. Washington, concerned the federally controlled Hanford nuclear reservation, a decommissioned facility that spans 586 square miles near the Columbia River. The reservation, formerly used by the federal government in the production of nuclear weapons, presents unique hazards to cleanup workers.

Under longstanding law, the federal government is immune from application of state law, including liability rules, on federal property located within a state, unless Congress waives the immunity. As Justice Stephen Breyer explained at the outset of his opinion for the court: "The Constitution's Supremacy Clause generally immunizes the Federal Government from state laws that directly regulate or discriminate against it." This concept is popularly known as "intergovernmental immunity."

Intergovernmental immunity might have meant that nonfederal workers on the Hanford site would automatically have no access to state remedies for work-related injuries or diseases. In 1936, however, Congress, detecting state workers' compensation gaps in injury coverage of …

May 23, 2022 by Alex Kupyna
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While the Center for Progressive Reform staff advocate for stronger protections from toxic chemical spills, none of our experts assumed that one of our own would gain firsthand experience on the matter.

That all changed last January, when Board Member and Scholar Sid Shapiro received a surprise midnight phone call warning him that a nearby fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., had just caught fire. Inside the plant and stored in a tank outside were 500 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, threatening to incinerate nearby communities.

In the In Our Backyard Podcast, hosted by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Shapiro, David Flores, a former senior policy analyst at the Center, and Senior Policy Analyst Darya Minovi shared their perspectives on the Winston-Salem incident and what it means for communities at risk of chemical spills, which are disproportionately low-wealth communities of color. They explored the health …

May 19, 2022 by Jake Moore
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In 2001, an explosion at the Motiva Enterprises Delaware City Refinery caused a 1 million gallon sulfuric acid spill, killing one worker and severely injuring eight others.

In 2008, an aboveground storage tank containing 2 million gallons of liquid fertilizer collapsed at the Allied Terminals facility in Chesapeake, Virginia, critically injuring two workers exposed to hazardous vapors.

In 2021, the release of over 100,000 gallons of chemicals at a Texas plant killed two contractors and hospitalized 30 others. In addition to injury and death, workplace chemical spills and exposures contribute to an estimated 50,000 work-related diseases such as asthma and chronic lung disease each year, as well as nearly 200,000 hospitalizations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created to reduce risks and hazards to workers, and to prevent incidents like these. However, following through on this promise has been another matter.

OSHA …

April 26, 2022 by M. Isabelle Chaudry
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Earlier this month, HBO Max aired an important series about toxic ingredients in cosmetic products. The series also examined the professional beauty industry and the health effects to workers exposed to toxic ingredients.

Toxic ingredients are found in cosmetics and other personal care products. The toxic chemicals used in them have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, early-onset puberty, fibroids and endometriosis, miscarriage, poor maternal and infant health outcomes, diabetes and obesity, and more. As I noted in Not So Pretty, "There is a loophole in federal regulation that allows industry to use almost any ingredient and label it as 'fragrance.'"


The HBO Max documentary Not So Pretty is available to stream now.

Cosmetics and other personal care products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act …

April 21, 2022 by Michael C. Duff
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It might not be easy to get to the merits of United States v. Washington. A funny thing happened on the way to oral argument: The state of Washington modified the 2018 workers' compensation law at the center of the case, raising the prospect that there is no longer a live dispute for the justices to resolve.

The state's old law, H.B. 1723, was aimed at federal contract workers who got sick after helping clean up the Hanford nuclear site in southern Washington. It created a presumption that certain conditions suffered by those workers were "occupational diseases." The new law, S.B. 5890, expanded the …

April 21, 2022 by Minor Sinclair
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This blog post is the third in a series outlining the Center for Progressive Reform's strategic direction. We previously published "Strengthening the 4th Branch of Government" and "A Turning Point on Climate."

I'm hopeful the recent disco revival won't last but that other resurging movements of the 1960s and '70s will. That era saw the birth and explosive growth of the modern environmental movement alongside other sweeping actions for peace and equality.

Public pressure led to critical environmental laws that continue to protect our natural resources and our health and safety. In 1970, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the federal government to limit air pollution, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established the first nationwide program to protect workers from on-the-job harm. Two years later came passage of the Clean …

April 15, 2022 by Michael C. Duff
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This post was originally published by SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Under established constitutional law, states may generally not tax or regulate property or operations of the federal government. This principle is known as intergovernmental immunity. Congress may waive this federal immunity, however, and the scope of that principle is the major issue in Monday’s oral argument in United States v. Washington.

A 1936 federal law waives federal immunity from state workers’ compensation laws on federal land and projects. Congress passed the law after the Supreme Court held that states could not apply workers’ compensation statutes to federal facilities. The 1936 waiver authorizes state workers’ compensation authorities to “apply [state workers’ compensation laws] to all land and premises in the State which the Federal Government owns or holds by deed or act of cession, and to all projects, buildings, constructions, improvements, and …

March 28, 2022 by Ian Campbell
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“Well behaved women seldom make history.”

This well-worn adage is no doubt true, but so too is its opposite. History is written for a purpose and, all too often, that purpose is to justify the status quo as a historical inevitability. Those women and men who defy the expectations of their time, who fight too often and too well against the injustices of the day, are mysteriously forgotten by those who write our history. In this way, women’s contributions to and leadership of the organized labor movement, though lionized within the movement itself, have largely escaped public consciousness.

Indeed, women led the battle for industrial democracy — even before they won the right to vote.

Perhaps the best known labor leader is Mother Jones. Born Mary Harris, Jones was an Irish immigrant who lost her husband and all four of her children to yellow fever and didn …

March 24, 2022 by M. Isabelle Chaudry
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Women’s History Month isn’t just a time to recognize achievements made throughout the decades to advance women’s rights and demand equity. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate women making history today, the ones in our unwritten history books.

For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, if confirmed, will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. Judge Jackson, a former clerk for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, graduated from Harvard Law School and served as a federal district and appellate court judge in Washington, D.C. Before serving as a judge, she worked for two years as a federal public defender, a vitally important role and an experience that few judges share. Indeed, she would be the first Supreme Court justice to ever have held such a position.

Shalanda Baker, a Member Scholar on leave …

March 3, 2022 by Ian Campbell
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The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) leaves no doubt about its purpose. Enacted in 1935, it was set against a backdrop of decades of intense and often violent labor strife. Recall the massacre of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colorado (1914); the bloody Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia (1921), which pit miners against the militia; and the West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike (1934) over union representation, which revealed organized workers’ enormous power over the nation’s economy.

The NLRA was designed to minimize strife by requiring employers to recognize employees’ efforts to engage in “mutual aid and protection”; adjudicating conflict so as to avoid direct action; and, to quote from the act itself, by “encouraging practices fundamental to the friendly adjustment of industrial disputes … and by restoring equality of bargaining power between employers and employees.”

Employers, naturally, prefer to deal with their workers one on …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 23, 2022

Justices Overturn Washington Workers' Compensation Law on a Strict Reading of Intergovernmental Immunity

May 23, 2022

Center Experts Lend Their Voices to Podcast on Environmental Justice and Chemical Disasters

May 19, 2022

Worker Safety Means Environmental Regulation

April 26, 2022

HBO Max Series Highlights Need for Stronger Regulation of Cosmetics Industry

April 21, 2022

Protecting Future Generations, Just as Earlier Ones Sought to Protect Us

April 21, 2022

Justices Wrestle with Mootness and Intergovernmental Immunity in Hanford Workers' Comp Case

April 15, 2022

At a Vestige of the Manhattan Project, a Fight over Workers’ Compensation and Intergovernmental Immunity