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March 22, 2016 by Matt Shudtz

USDA Official Throws OSHA Under the Bus

Partisan efforts in Congress to roll back health and safety rules are common fodder on this blog. But last week, we saw a new twist, with a high-level Obama Administration official giving cover to a right-wing attempt to weaken protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the poultry industry.

The workers in question are at the center of the highly industrialized process of turning live chickens into shrink-wrapped skinless parts. That puts them at a critical juncture in the vertically integrated industry, where major conglomerates like Perdue, Tyson, and JBS control the entire production chain from fertilized egg to boneless breast. More than 200,000 farms, producing 8.5 billion birds a year, all feed into about 300 federally inspected slaughter facilities. These facilities are a potential choke point in poultry companies’ distribution networks, which profit on speed and efficiency. And right at the front end of those facilities, on the slaughter line, there’s a speed limit set by USDA.

Ever sensitive to the wishes of Big Agriculture, in 2012, USDA proposed  raising that speed limit, as part of a larger effort to change the way poultry slaughter facilities are inspected. There’s a complicated backstory, involving a …

Dec. 21, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was sending its final version of a long-awaited rule on silica dust in the workplace to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz responded to the news with the following statement:

Workers across the United States have been waiting for this day for a long time. But don’t overlook the fact that this announcement simply marks a procedural accomplishment in a decades-long administrative process. This rule has been to OIRA before, and the last time it sat with the White House bean counters for two and a half years. By Executive Order, this review should be complete in a matter of weeks. That’s what millions of silica-exposed workers expect and what the White House needs to deliver.

We won't know the full …

Aug. 25, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Recently, six CPR Member Scholars sat down for an hour-long conversation about the lessons that policymakers have—and have not—learned in the years since Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast and stretched our flawed flood-protection infrastructure past its limits. As explained in our groundbreaking report, Unnatural Disaster: The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, published just weeks after the New Orleans levees broke, the catastrophic consequences of the storm were the product of decades-long failures to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.

In the video below, CPR Member Scholars Alyson Flournoy, Robin Craig, Sheila Foster, Tom McGarity, Sid Shapiro, and Rob Verchick discuss some of the issues raised in our 2005 report, but add new insights building on a decade of research, advocacy, and efforts to promote stronger disaster preparedness and response. They touch on issues of social vulnerability, public health, and political gridlock, but also note important …

July 14, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Public Citizen to host discussion of CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor’s new book, “Why Not Jail?  Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.” 

On Monday, July 20, 2015 Public Citizen, the Center for Progressive Reform and the Bauman Foundation will lead a discussion focused on CPR’s immediate past president and University of Maryland Law School professor Rena Steinzor’s book, “Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.” 

Watch and listen to a recording of this discussion.

Date:               Monday, July 20

Time:              4:00-5:30 pm

Place:              Offices of Public Citizen                         1600 20th Street, NW (northwest corner of 20th and Q, NW)                         Washington, DC  20009

Presenters Include:

Rena Steinzor - Professor, University of Maryland Carey School of Law and immediate past president, Center for Progressive Reform

Robert Weissman - President, Public Citizen (Moderator)

Russell Mokhiber - Editor of Corporate Crime Reporter and the co-author (with …

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 …

April 9, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Last year, the Center for Progressive Reform published Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State & Local Policy Reform. The manual is intended as a tool for state and local advocates. It highlights successful local campaigns to adopt workplace safety policies, and offers a series of innovative proposals to help state and local advocates make headway even in the face of intense opposition from big-moneyed, anti-regulatory interests. We focused on cross-cutting ideas that will empower workers, ensure crime doesn’t pay, and strengthen the institutions that are meant to protect workers.

Our day-of-release blog post with more information is here.

Since its release, we’ve received positive feedback from many advocates about the manual. Among the suggestions that we heard was that the manual ought to be translated into Spanish. Today, we’re excited to announce that a Spanish-language version of the manual is available on our …

March 20, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Last week, workers’ advocates at the Southern Poverty Law Center and Nebraska Appleseed got the official word that OSHA will not develop new regulations to protect the men and women who do the dirty work of turning clucking chickens into boneless cutlets. It’s an industry where vulnerable workers—mostly women, immigrants, and folks geographically isolated from other job opportunities—face great hazards from the strains of repetitive motion. Some of the plants process tens of thousands of birds on every shift, and a recent NIOSH review of one facility uncovered evidence of chronic musculoskeletal injuries in more than 40 percent of the workers who took part in the evaluation. The industry has a problem.

Lobbyists from the Chicken Council will proudly proclaim that the industry’s injury and illness rates have been dropping for years. But those numbers simply cannot be trusted. The chronic pain that …

March 16, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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What’s old is new again. This week, competing bills to reform the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hit the Senate—one from Senators Vitter and Udall, the other from Senators Boxer and Markey. Both the environmental community and the chemical industry agree that TSCA is broken and must be fixed. This is a law that’s so poorly designed; EPA has been stymied in its efforts to ban asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. But where environmentalists and the chemical industry diverge is on the details of how to fix TSCA.

CPR Member Scholars and staff are still analyzing the bills, but one issue stands out as a fatal flaw in the Vitter-Udall proposal, and is addressed wisely in the Boxer-Markey proposal: the proposed safety standard. The “safety standard” is the focal point of the legislation: EPA’s central task under both proposals is to determine …

Feb. 24, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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This week, the Maryland General Assembly will review new legislation that could help ensure safer workplaces in the state’s construction industry. The proposal, which is a type of “responsible contracting” legislation similar to other policies being tested out in states and municipalities across the country, would require companies that put in bids for work on public works projects in Maryland to attest that they have workplace health and safety programs and that they would implement the programs in construction projects done on the public dime.

It’s an important piece of legislation, given the dangers in the industry. As we noted in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual,

"Construction is one of the most hazardous industries for workers. Frequent injuries and deaths from falls, electrocutions, and striking objects impose unbearably high costs on individuals, families, and local economies. Public Citizen estimates that, between 2008 and 2010, fatal …

Feb. 19, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Our intrepid colleague Celeste Monforton, who writes at the Pump Handle blog, recently passed along a neat example of a tool that we wrote about in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual. Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report on the state’s regulatory protections for meatpacking workers. As we noted in the Winning Safer Workplaces manual, state-level oversight of government regulation can be a valuable tool for advocates who are fighting for stronger workplace protections. The results of new audits can clarify what is working—and what is not working—about the regulatory system, giving advocates critical information that they might use in new campaigns. The audit process itself, by focusing outside attention on programs that may be insulated from regular or public oversight, can also have positive effects for the programs’ intended beneficiaries (here, workers).

The Minnesota auditors started this project with three …

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