Center for Progressive Reform

Workers' Rights

Addressing Emerging Risks

All workers have the right to a safe and healthful workplace and to a fair wage that offers them an opportunity to realize the American dream. Over the past century, we’ve tried to breathe life into that value by enacting hundreds of labor laws and establishing numerous federal agencies to implement and enforce them, like the Department of Labor (DOL), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), among others. States also play a major role in protecting workers’ rights by administering state-level programs that carry out the minimum federal requirements and any supplemental state protections.

But the American workplace has changed dramatically since many of our labor laws were last updated, and so have the inherent hazards for workers. 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.


Chemical Detox for the Workplace

Inadequately regulated chemical hazards are at their deadliest in the workplace. People exposed to toxics at work tend to encounter dangerous substances more frequently, for longer durations, and at higher levels than the public at large. Workers are at substantial risk across dozens of sectors including agriculture, domestic cleaning, hair and nail salons, home repairs, building construction, and chemical manufacturing. Read CPR's Detox for the Workplace handbook to see how workers can protect themselves.

Read more »


Improving Federal Worker Safety Programs

In its early years, OSHA made great progress reducing workplace injuries and deaths. But the war on regulation triggered a steady decline in OSHA’s ambition and effectiveness, and progress has nearly stopped.

Read more »


Whistleblower Protection Laws

Workers face powerful disincentives to raise concerns about health and safety in the workplace. All states have some form of whistleblower protection law, though they vary widely in their scope and implementation, and in the actual safeguards they provide.

Read more »


State Advocacy for Safer Workplaces

CPR's Winning Safer Workplaces manual for state and local advocates highlights successful campaigns to adopt local workplace safety standards, and offers innovative proposals to help advocates make headway despite intense opposition from big-moneyed, anti-regulatory interests.

Read more »

Outdated Labor Laws

Our labor laws have not kept pace with these new and emerging technological and economic developments. At the federal level, many agencies have been starved of the resources they need to keep up with regulatory challenges and burdened with analytical requirements by adverse court decisions and congressional action. The result is that new safety standards can take a decade or more to implement, and enforcement of existing standards is sporadic at best. Thus, many workers and advocates are beginning to look at states and localities to strengthen protections. Achieving meaningful, long-lasting reform will require improvements to laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local level. Working with government officials, workers and advocates must find creative and focused responses to existing and new challenges in the workplace.  

CPR’s Member Scholars and policy analysts have conducted extensive research and analyses that provide numerous legal and policy recommendations that can be pursued by government decision-makers and allied organizations. Please read more about securing workers’ economic rights, reforming federal labor laws and policies, and winning safer workplaces by advocating for strong worker protections at the state and local level.

Crimes Against Workers Database

Worker deaths or injuries resulting from conditions that violate workplace safety laws are all too common. Often, rather than treating these violations of the law as subjects for criminal investigation, prosecutors simply defer to OSHA or comparable state agencies, thus significantly reducing the scope of possible penalties. As a result, many workplace injuries or deaths resulting from illegal conditions are punished with fines, and light fines at that, letting violators off too easily and eliminating the deterrent effect that might prevent future incidents. Some prosecutors have recognized the need to treat such incidents as the crimes they are, prosecuting employers who've broken the law. CPR's first-of-its-kind Crimes Against Workers database catalogs state criminal cases and grassroots advocacy campaigns against employers responsible for workers being killed, maimed, or serious endangered on the job. It provides a one-stop shop for finding case files, media clips, and advocacy resources related to state criminal enforcement against companies and individuals in cases of serious worker injuries and deaths. 

Our Latest Work

The Center for Progressive Reform

2021 L St NW, #101-330
Washington, DC. 20036

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2019