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June 10, 2021 by James Goodwin

Department of Labor's Emergency Temporary Standard Too Weak to Protect All Workers from COVID-19

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 was announced in a Day One memo from President Joe Biden. CPR urges the president to double down on constructive regulatory reform and to advance policies that truly and effectively protect all people, especially those from historically marginalized communities.

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April 28, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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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 …

Feb. 12, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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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 …

Feb. 9, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the recording of a related webinar or view on YouTube.

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 …

Feb. 3, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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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 …

Jan. 27, 2021 by Katie Tracy, Katlyn Schmitt
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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:

  • Protect workers from disease

    Our nation's workers are going the extra mile to help us survive the pandemic. But Maryland isn't providing workers across the state with the protections they need to stay safe and healthy. Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would take a step in that direction. Del. Kriselda Valderrama (D) has introduced a bill (House Bill 124) that would require the state to adopt a temporary emergency standard to protect workers, including food and farm workers, from COVID-19. The bill would also …

Jan. 21, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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Editor's update: On April 9, 2021, President Biden nominated Doug Parker to lead OSHA. If confirmed, he'll replace Jim Frederick as Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Labor.

President Joe Biden has tapped three seasoned experts to jumpstart the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal government's main worker health and safety agency. Jim Frederick will serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of OSHA and will head the agency until a permanent Assistant Secretary is confirmed. Frederick’s experience includes over two decades working for the United Steel Workers' health, safety, and environment department. In his latest role, Frederick served as the assistant director and principal investigator for the department. Biden has also named Chip Hughes, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Education and Training Program, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pandemic and Emergency Response. This will …

Sept. 3, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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In the absence of meaningful action by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than a dozen states, including Virginia, have issued emergency safety measures to protect essential workers from the risks of COVID-19. But Maryland – home to one of the largest poultry industries in the nation – is glaringly absent from that list.

We’ve seen dramatic changes in response to the coronavirus in the transportation, retail, and restaurant industries, but behind the closed doors at poultry plants, workers face dire health risks while continuing to labor in fear of contracting COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, workers in the poultry industry faced some fairly egregious working conditions. Inside plants, workers labor side-by-side while as many as 175 birds whizz by every minute for "processing." Painful repetitive stress injuries and cuts due to increased line speeds are all too common at these processing facilities. Reports …

July 29, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Workers presently have no right to bring a lawsuit against employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) for failing to provide safe and healthy working conditions. If an employer exposes workers to toxic chemicals or fails to guard a dangerous machine, for example, they must rely on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect, find a violation, and issue a citation. This omission in the 1970 statute is especially troubling in the context of COVID-19, as workers across the United States continue to face a massive workplace health crisis without any meaningful support from OSHA or most of its state and territorial counterparts.

OSHA has so far declined to adopt an emergency standard to address COVID-19, despite repeated calls by unions, workers, and advocates to do so. Moreover, rather than enforcing existing standards or holding employers accountable for violating their general duty …

June 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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A blog post published last month by the Chesapeake Bay Program, a collaborative partnership focused on Bay restoration, addressed the many ways that the climate crisis will affect farms in the region. Data from the program shows temperatures on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, home to a high concentration of industrial poultry farms, increased between 2 to 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, between 1901 and 2017. By 2080, temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are projected to increase by 4.5 to 10 degrees, posing a serious risk of heat stress to farmworkers and livestock.

As the post discusses, rising temperatures can hurt farms in several ways. Warmer temperatures make for a longer growing season, which may temporarily promote higher crop yields but can also stress water resources and result in additional fertilizer application, which is not what the doctor ordered for the Bay’s nutrient …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 10, 2021

Department of Labor's Emergency Temporary Standard Too Weak to Protect All Workers from COVID-19

April 28, 2021

Climate, Equity, and Worker Justice: Two Job Openings at CPR

Feb. 12, 2021

'All Labor Has Dignity': It's Long Past Time to Realize King's Dream of Humane Working Conditions for All

Feb. 9, 2021

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

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.