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July 16, 2015 by Rena Steinzor

Kill a Worker? You're Not a Criminal. Steal a Worker's Pay? You Are One.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez came into office pledging to create good jobs and take on the economic injustice that oppresses blue-collar workers, from raising the minimum wage and restoring unpaid overtime to combatting wage theft. Luckily, the head of his Wage and Hour Division, David Weil, the author of a revelatory report on how to make the most of strategic enforcement, has moved out quite aggressively.  It’s a pity that other, even more serious crimes, don’t seem to get the same priority from elsewhere in the Labor Department.

Yesterday, Weil and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that they’d filed charges and secured a guilty plea from the owner of nine Papa John’s restaurants who did not pay his workers the minimum wage, stole some of the wages they owed the workers, and fabricated tax returns to cover up his misdeeds. 

“My office will not hesitate to criminally prosecute any employer who underpays workers and then tries to cover it up by creating fake names and filing fraudulent tax returns,” said Schneiderman.  Added Weil, “This judgment should be a wake-up call for all employers who think they can break the law, not pay their …

July 7, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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The Supreme Court’s decision on June 26 recognizing same-sex couples’ fundamental right to marry is a significant, albeit long overdue, civil rights victory for the LGBT community and for our nation.  You don’t have to look any further than the long list of benefits available only to married couples to see how denying same-sex couples the right to marry or refusing to recognize their marriage performed in another state is discriminatory.  Fortunately, the Court’s ruling means same-sex spouses will now become eligible for these benefits no matter where they reside.

Given that many of these benefits relate to employment, this is a huge step forward for LGBT workers’ economic rights.  The significance of this is well stated in AFL-CIO’s amicus brief to the Court explaining the economic impact that the denial of employment benefits has on same-sex couples:

“State laws that deny the …

June 30, 2015 by Rena Steinzor
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President Obama’s approval rating is up to 50 percent for the first time in two years after a stellar period of national reconciliation and the safeguarding of Obamacare, his signature, and truly momentous, achievement.  The president, in fulfillment of his noble promises to help the middle class, is about to put his weight behind a Labor Department rule that would hike minimum earnings needed to earn overtime pay, a proposal that would affected 5 million Americans.  These accomplishments remind people why they voted for him in the first instance and returned him to office by a very comfortable margin. 

But for those of us who believe that people should be able to go to work without getting sick or dying, a remarkable series of stories by the Center for Public Integrity can only strengthen the despair that has been building slowly since the president took office …

June 23, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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Every day, millions of consumers endure Walmart’s crowded parking lots and cramped aisles for the chance to buy retail goods and groceries at low prices.  Perhaps some visitors find value in the prospect of starring in the next caught-on-camera video like last week’s hit filmed at a store in Beech Grove, Indiana.  But the lower prices Walmart offers come at a high cost elsewhere. 

According to a new report by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Walmart’s low cost strategy induces poor labor and environmental practices throughout its food supply chain, and these hidden costs are passed back to workers, suppliers, the environment, and communities.  “Walmart’s business model  . . . . creates the conditions to force suppliers to cut costs, which often means cutting wages for workers, lowering prices to farmers, and externalizing costs on to the environment and the communities surrounding the suppliers’ business,” the report …

June 22, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Last week, OSHA issued noteworthy citations against a poultry slaughtering facility in Delaware. The agency is using its General Duty Clause to hold Allen Harim Foods in Harbeson, Delaware responsible for ergonomic hazards that plague the entire industry—hazards involving the repetitive cutting and twisting motions that lead to musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

This case follows another from October of last year, when, in response to a complaint by workers and their advocates from the Southern Poverty Law Center, OSHA cited Wayne Farms in Jack, Alabama for General Duty Clause violations, also related to ergonomic hazards. As it turns out, the Wayne Farms case was a shot across the bow for an industry that subjects its workers to punishingly repetitive work in a variety of situations. Today’s announcement may be evidence of a trend developing in OSHA enforcement.

It’s a trend …

June 19, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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Regular readers of this blog are already well acquainted with her, but for everyone else, CPR is pleased to introduce our new workers’ rights policy analyst, Katie Weatherford.

Weatherford joins CPR after several years with the Center for Effective Government, where she was a regulatory policy analyst and advocated for strong regulations to protect public health, safety, and the environment. “Katie is insightful, thorough, and poised to be a great fit for CPR,” says Executive Director Matthew Shudtz, “along with our Scholars, I’m looking forward to working with her to fight for stronger worker health and safety protections.”

Among her achievements at CEG, Weatherford produced a report examining OSHA’s whistleblower protection program and proposing model state legislation to protect workers from retaliation. Her expertise on the subject will be invaluable as she takes on the job of working with CPR’s allies to help promote …

June 1, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that contingent workers earn lower pay, receive fewer benefits, have less job security, and may be at greater risk of on-the-job injuries compared to standard employees. 

While there is no official definition of “contingent workers,” according to GAO, labor experts generally agree that it includes workers with variable schedules and without job security, such as temporary workers, day laborers, and on-call workers.  Although some in the labor movement would define contingent workers more broadly to include self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and part-time employees, GAO chose to base its findings on the narrower group, which it describes as the “core contingent workforce.” 

GAO found that, in 2010, core contingent workers made up 7.9 percent of all employed workers.  Applying the broadest definition, GAO’s estimate grew to 40.4 percent.  Regardless of the definition applied, when compared …

May 28, 2015 by Sidney Shapiro
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OSHA has finally promulgated a Confined Spaces in Construction rule.  The agency waited 25 years after it had issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to issue a rule.   Administrative law academics have been concerned for some time about the ossification of rulemaking due to a set of regulatory hurdles imposed by regulatory opponents. Proponents say these hurdles are necessary to ensure the accuracy and reasonableness of regulations, but they also deny workers and others of regulatory protection for years and years — a quarter century in this case.  In short, perfection has become the enemy of the good, a pattern that has real consequences for the workers who depend on OSHA to issue rules in a timely way.

A history of tying up rules to protect construction workers in confined spaces has plagued the agency for decades.  For example, in March 1980, OSHA issued an ANPR …

May 26, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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This past Sunday, the Houston Chronicle published an opinion piece by CPR Scholar and University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor entitled, "With Dupont, OSHA's Tough Talk Falls Faint."

Steinzor recounts the chemical giant's negligence and reckless disregard for safety which ultimately led to the deaths of workers Gilbert and Robert TisnadoWade Baker and Crystle Wise.

She takes OSHA to account for the small penalties the agency levied against Dupont and notes, "Despite ample evidence that gross and reckless neglect of fundamental safety protocols caused the tragedy, OSHA could only muster alleged violations totaling $99,000 in civil penalties, an amount that DuPont could pay out of petty cash. Penalties this small relative to a company's size and revenues do not deter future misconduct by DuPont or its competitors. Instead, they are written off as a mere cost of doing …

May 21, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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Whether you are a frequent visitor to your local nail salon, or just an occasional passer-by, you are likely familiar with the offending chemical stench that emanates from within.  You may have even considered whether the displeasing fumes are safe to breath, especially for the clinicians who work in the store every day.  This is exactly what New York Times reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, explores in her recent exposé of the nail salon industry entitled, “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers.” 

Nir explains that there is limited research on chemical exposure to nail salon workers, which makes it difficult to reach hard conclusions on the long-term or accumulated health effects.  Yet first-hand accounts of workers in the industry reveal that skin and eye irritation, breathing difficulty, and pregnancy complications are commonplace, and there is substantial data showing that the chemicals used by nail salon workers (like acetone, formaldehyde, and …

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