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Sept. 3, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers

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 from plant workers show that many are not permitted to take necessary bathroom breaks and resort to wearing adult diapers to make it through shifts.

A few weeks after the pandemic hit, many of the counties where meat and poultry processing facilities were located (and neighboring counties) had COVID-19 infection rates that were …

Aug. 20, 2020 by James Goodwin
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The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a bad law and should be repealed. Yet, it has taken on outsized importance given that it provides one of the few vehicles for moving substantive legislation through a hyper-polarized Congress. The upcoming elections are thrusting it back in the spotlight, so let’s talk about the CRA and how opponents of the Trump administration’s assault on public safeguards might put it to its highest and best use.

First things first, though: The CRA only becomes viable if the Democrats sweep the presidential election and secure majorities in both chambers of Congress. Some polling suggests that the stars appear to be aligning in this fashion, just as they did at the beginning of the Trump administration when the full aggressive force of the CRA was first deployed. If this happens, that means any rules issued “late enough” in the Trump …

Aug. 3, 2020 by Matt Shudtz
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The nation is finally beginning to grapple with the widespread disparities in public health, economic opportunity, and community well-being across race and class that stem from longstanding systems of oppression and injustice. As systems thinkers, CPR's Board, staff, and Member Scholars have devoted considerable time to researching and understanding the roots of these inequities, considering the disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and advocating for just policy reform.

Our Regulation as Social Justice project is an example. It recognizes that EPA, OSHA, and other "protector agencies" have a vital role to play in preventing harm to people and the environment through their statutory authority to adopt and enforce regulations. As they exercise that authority, agencies also have the capacity, indeed the moral obligation, to redress environmental and public health injustices by prioritizing the needs of overburdened communities in the development of their regulatory agenda and enforcement policies.

In …

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 …

July 28, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Today, a group of 136 law professors from across the United States, including 31 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member Scholars, will send a letter 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.”

The letter, spearheaded by CPR Member Scholars Dan Farber and Michael Duff, comes in response to a push by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate special interests to include a “federal liability shield” in the next COVID relief bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress. This shield would prevent ordinary Americans from holding corporations accountable in the civil courts when their unreasonably dangerous actions cause people to become sick with the virus.

As the letter explains, the federal liability shield would violate clear principles of federalism by intruding upon the traditional rights …

July 2, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Workers' compensation was created as a means to an end and not an end in itself. It addressed the outrageous frequency of workplace injury and death caused by railroads in the late 19th/early 20th century. The unholy trinity of employers' affirmative tort defenses – assumption of the risk, contributory negligence, and the fellow servant rule – meant that workers or their survivors were not being compensated adequately or, in many cases, not at all.

For this reason, expert American investigators were dispatched to Europe between 1909 and 1911 to study the existing workers' compensation systems there. Those experts' work set American workers' compensation baselines. The oddity is that while Europeans moved on to universal benefit systems, we continue to use their 19th century work-injury system. (I write about these developments here). Additionally, the United States briefly flirted …

June 19, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Until this week, laws in a majority of U.S. states permitted some form of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That was no oversight on the part of state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. It was instead the product of virulent right-wing opposition to the recognition of the fundamental rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community. Not only did they oppose laws to protect against discrimination, they raised untold millions of dollars over the years boasting about it and used anti-gay ballot initiatives as a tool to inflame passions and draw out arch-conservative voters.

On Monday, the law changed – dramatically, sweepingly, historically – when the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that in this respect the 1964 Civil Rights Act's anti-employment discrimination provisions mean exactly what they say. The Court's ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia makes clear that it is illegal …

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 …

June 17, 2020 by Thomas McGarity
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Governments and industries are "reopening" the economy while COVID-19 continues to rage across the United States. At the same time, the lack of effective, enforceable workplace health and safety standards puts workers and the general public at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus. In a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform, Sidney Shapiro, Michael Duff, and I examine the threats, highlight industries at greatest risk, and offer recommendations to federal and state governments to better protect workers and the public.

In many essential industries, the coronavirus risk is particularly acute because of the nature of the work and of the workplaces in which it is conducted. The lack of enforceable, pandemic-specific protections for workers and the hodgepodge of industry responses heighten this danger to workers. Industries affected range from health care to meatpacking, transportation to warehousing.

Heaping injustice on top of danger, coronavirus-related hazards …

June 16, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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On June 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a remote hearing, “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.” The Center for Progressive Reform, joined by Fair Farms, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health (SESH), and the Sussex Health and Environmental Network submitted a fact sheet to subcommittee members outlining the impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula, along with a number of recommendations for building a more sustainable model for the region.

The area is home to a massive poultry industry, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We addressed several of the most severe problems in our fact sheet, including the following.

Public Health Harms from 'Depopulation'

Because of pandemic-driven staffing shortages, approximately 2 million chickens in the region, likely more, have been killed without having been processed into consumer-ready meat. According to the industry, once …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers

Aug. 20, 2020

The Congressional Review Act Could Be Put to Positive Short-Term Use, but It Should Still Be Repealed

Aug. 3, 2020

CPR's Commitment to Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

July 29, 2020

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

July 28, 2020

CPR Leads Legal Academics in Ensuring Citizen Access to Justice in the Wake of COVID-19

July 2, 2020

Will COVID-19 'Shock' Workplace Injury Law Like the Railroads of the Early 20th Century?

June 19, 2020

Supreme Court Affirms Title VII Protections for LGBTQ+ Community