Workers' Rights

All workers have the right to a safe and healthful workplace and a fair wage. But the American workplace has changed dramatically since many of our labor laws were last updated, creating new hazards for workers, and transforming the relationship between employer and employee. New, bigger, more powerful equipment has come online. New chemicals and other toxic substances have come into routine use. New production and construction methods have been introduced.

At the same time, more and more employers rely on “contingent” workers instead of permanent employees to perform jobs at all levels. Employers are also fighting grassroots efforts to raise the minimum wage, denying sick leave and family medical leave, misclassifying workers to avoid overtime pay, and retaliating against workers who report wrongdoing.

Worker deaths or injuries resulting from conditions that violate workplace safety laws are still too common. Often, rather than treating these deadly violations of the law as subjects for criminal investigation, prosecutors simply defer to OSHA or comparable state agencies, significantly reducing the scope of possible penalties, and reducing any deterrent effect as violations are "punished" with light fines. CPR's first-of-its-kind Crimes Against Workers database catalogs state criminal cases brought by enlightened prosecutors, as well as grassroots advocacy campaigns against employers responsible for workers being killed, maimed, or seriously endangered on the job.

Through research and scholarship, CPR Member Scholars and staff offer local, state, and federal policymakers and prosecutors tools to make sure all workers have a safe workplace and a fair deal for their labor. See their work below. Use the search box to narrow the list.

Joint Letter to Maryland Legislators on Farmworker Protection Amidst the Pandemic

CPR joined with 70+ organizations in a joint letter to Maryland legislative leaders calling on them to convene a special session of the Maryland legislature in order to adopt legislation to protect the state's farmworkers from COVID-19.

Type: Legislative Testimony (Sept. 2, 2020)
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Second Joint Letter to Ben Grumbles on Transparency During COVID

In May 2020, CPR joined with other organizations from the Chesapeake Accountability Project in a letter to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles urging increased transparency during the pandemic. Having received no response, the group wrote again to urge that all compliance waivers granted/denied & claims of force majeure related to COVID-19 be made public. The letter also reiterates the importance of MDE providing strong and clear notice to permit holders of its expectations during the pandemic.

Type: Letters to Agencies (Aug. 26, 2020)
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Author(s): Matt Shudtz
Joint Letter to Governor Hogan re MOSH standard for COVID-19

CPR joined unions, public health professionals, advocates, workers, faith leaders, and Maryland residents across the state calling on Governor Hogan to issue an executive order requiring the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) division of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to adopt an emergency standard to protect workers from the novel coronavirus.

Type: Letters to Agencies (Aug. 11, 2020)
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New Report: COVID-19, OSHA's Lackluster Enforcement History Highlight Need for Worker Empowerment

Over the last several decades, U.S. workers have been systematically disempowered and silenced. A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform explains that because of this, the nation's workplaces are not nearly as safe or healthy as they need to be, and workers lack the power they deserve to speak up against exploitation and abuse without fear of significant retaliation. Read the news release accompanying CPR's report, OSHA's Next 50 Years: Legislating a Private Right of Action to Empower Workers.

Type: News Releases (July 29, 2020)
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OSHA's Next 50 Years: Legislating a Private Right of Action to Empower Workers

The nation's workplaces are not nearly as safe or healthy as they need to be to protect all workers, and workers lack the power they deserve to speak up against exploitation without fear of significant retaliation. Fixing the current system requires an updated and vastly improved labor law that empowers workers to speak up about health and safety hazards, rather than risk their lives out of fear of losing employment and pay. It also requires that workers be empowered to fight back when government agencies fail to enforce safety and health requirements. The authors propose guaranteeing all workers a private right of action to enforce violations of the law, coupled with incentives for speaking up and strong whistleblower protections.

Type: Reports (July 29, 2020)
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Author(s): Michael C. Duff, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, Rena Steinzor, Katie Tracy
Joint letter opposing federal liability shield during COVID-19

In July 2020, a group of 136 law professors from across the United States, including 31 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member Scholars, wrote to congressional leaders urging them to “ensure that our courthouse doors remain open to all Americans for injuries they suffer from negligence during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Type: Legislative Testimony (July 28, 2020)
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As COVID-19 Rages, New Report Explores How to Better Protect Workers During Pandemics

Even as COVID-19 continues to rage across the United States, governments and industries are "reopening" the American economy. As a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform shows, in the absence of sufficient safeguards, this puts workers and the general public at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus.

Type: News Releases (June 17, 2020)
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Protecting Workers in a Pandemic: What the Federal Government Should Be Doing

The "re-opening" of the American economy while the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating puts workers at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus. In some blue-collar industries, the risk is particularly acute because of the inherent nature of the work itself and of the workplaces in which it is conducted. And the risk, for a variety of reasons, falls disproportionately on people of color and low-income workers. With governors stay-at-home orders and other pandemic safety restrictions, CPR Member Scholars Thomas McGarity, Michael Duff, and Sidney Shapiro examine the federal government's many missed opportunities to stem the spread of the virus in the nation's workplaces, and make recommendations for what needs to happen next to protect employees on the job.

Type: Reports (June 17, 2020)
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Author(s): Thomas McGarity, Michael C. Duff, Sidney Shapiro
Environmental Injustice & Impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula

Read a fact sheet from CPR, Fair Farms, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health, and the Sussex Health and Environmental Network prepared for a hearing of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. The hearing focused on the environmental justice impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Type: Reports (June 9, 2020)
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Author(s): Katlyn Schmitt
Webinar: Protecting Our Communities Through Sustainable Agriculture

Over the past two decades, Delmarva agriculture has shifted from traditional, diversified family farming to a more industrialized system of raising animals. Large, powerful companies dictate how animals are raised, processed, and sold and bear no responsibility for the public health impacts and environmental degradation in our local communities. The disastrous consequences have been highlighted, and in some cases exacerbated, by the current COVID-19 crisis. During a May 26, 2020, virtual town hall, regional experts and local community members shared the latest science, regulatory and policy actions, community perspectives, and possible solutions. The town hall was presented free with support from the Town Creek Foundation.

Type: Webinars (May 26, 2020)
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Author(s): Darya Minovi

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