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Oct. 5, 2016 by Katie Tracy

Representing Workers Injured on the Job – A New York Perspective

When it comes to worker health and safety, preventing injuries and illnesses is the number one goal. It was for this very purpose that Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with setting and enforcing strong workplace standards. But when preventative measures fail and workers are harmed, agency enforcement actions against the employer (while necessary) don't provide legal redress to workers or their families for the damages they've incurred. Instead, recovering damages often necessitates they hire a private attorney to help them navigate this complex area of the law. 

The attorneys who take these cases play a critical role in workers' rights advocacy, and their experience offers a unique perspective that can help advocates better understand the challenges workers face and opportunities for overcoming them. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with one such attorney – Richard Jaffe, partner of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP in New York – and here's what he had to say during our conversation: 

Q. Tell me about your firm. What types of cases do you handle and whom do you typically represent?  

Cohen & Jaffe, LLP is a small New York …

Sept. 21, 2016 by Katie Tracy
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Federal contractors that violate labor laws not only cheat workers by disregarding their rights to fair pay and safe workplaces, but they also tend to run into unexpected costs and delays during performance of the contracts they're awarded. With this in mind, in 2014, President Obama issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13673, which seeks to improve cost savings and efficiency in government contracting by requiring prospective contractors to disclose labor law violations and obligating contracting agencies to review those violations before awarding contracts. The E.O. also requires federal contractors to provide employees with wage statements that include certain information so that workers can verify the accuracy of their paychecks. 

Consistent with the E.O.'s directives, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council and Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule and guidance, respectively, in the Federal Register on Aug. 25. The Center for Progressive …

Aug. 11, 2016 by Katie Tracy
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Last month was the hottest July on record for several cities across the southern United States, thanks to a heat wave that brought extreme temperatures to most of the country. But even when temperatures aren't record-breaking, extreme heat can be dangerous and potentially fatal if proper precautions aren't taken. Between 2003 and 2012, more than 30 workers died annually from heat-related illnesses and injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In 2014, 18 workers died and another 2,630 workers suffered injuries or illnesses related to excessive heat exposure. Yet OSHA has repeatedly declined to adopt a national standard, instead offering guidance to employers on preventing heat-related illnesses. 

Excessive heat exposure is a widely recognized occupational hazard for outdoor and indoor workers that can cause illnesses ranging from cramps to death. Heat can also raise the risk of injuries due to variations in working …

July 29, 2016 by Matt Shudtz
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Earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Pilgrim's Pride, one of the world's largest poultry processors, with more than a dozen serious workplace health and safety violations. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz issued the following statement today: 

Credit OSHA for pushing the envelope. The poultry slaughter industry loves to tout its declining injury rates, but outside experts have many reasons to believe the industry's cooking its books. This isn't the first time OSHA's investigators have uncovered the sophisticated sabotage of worker protections. That's why it is so important for OSHA's lawyers to carry this case through and hold Pilgrim's Pride accountable. Make no mistake, the rest of the industry is watching.

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The Center for Progressive Reform is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and …

June 30, 2016 by Brian Gumm
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NEWS RELEASE: New Report: When OSHA Gives Discounts on Danger, Workers Are Put at Risk

As Agency Prepares to Increase Maximum Penalty Levels for Workplace Health and Safety Violations, It Should Reexamine Settlement Policy

Workplace health and safety standards exist for a reason. When companies ignore them, they put their workers in significant danger. Every year, thousands of workers die on the job in the United States, and many more are seriously injured. Unfortunately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) tools to hold employers accountable for endangering workers have been woefully inadequate for decades. While some of those tools are slated to become stronger, a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) shows that the agency needs to seize the moment to reassess additional policies to better deter violators and prevent worker deaths and injuries. 

The CPR report, OSHA's Discount on Danger: OSHA Should …

June 1, 2016 by Matthew Freeman
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CPR’s Rena Steinzor and Katherine Tracy had an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend highlighting the reluctance of police and prosecutors to treat worker deaths as if they were anything but mere accidents. In fact, they’re often the result of illegal cost-cutting and safety shortcuts by employers, behavior that sometimes warrants criminal charges. They write:

When a worker dies because a trench collapses, and it turns out that managers sacrificed safety to get the job done faster, that’s a crime. When managers operate factories with equipment that doesn’t have an accessible emergency shut-off switch and an employee is crushed or loses a limb, those managers should be indicted. But with few exceptions, police and prosecutors treat worker deaths and injuries as unforeseeable “accidents” that can’t be prevented. So too many companies think they can save money by cutting corners and …

May 25, 2016 by Katie Tracy
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This morning, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that hazardous working conditions across the meat and poultry industry put workers at risk of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. While injury and illness rates reportedly declined in the decade from 2004 to 2013, GAO emphasizes that the decrease might not be because of improved working conditions in the industry. Rather, the drop is likely due to data-gathering challenges at the Department of Labor and underreporting across the industry. 

GAO last looked at working conditions in the meat and poultry industry in 2005, when it found "that the meat and poultry slaughtering and processing industry was one of the most hazardous in the United States. . . ." GAO's new report reiterates its 2005 findings about common hazards found in the industry, including "hazards associated with musculoskeletal disorders, chemical hazards, biological hazards from pathogens and animals, and …

May 19, 2016 by Katie Tracy
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Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed the significant health risks to workers. 

The unconscionable delays and unjustified concessions awarded to industry at the expense of workers' health and safety are hardly unique to the silica standard; rather, they are the product of our broken regulatory process, which is riddled with analytical requirements designed to generate business-friendly outcomes. 

In the case of the silica standard, OSHA set the permissible exposure level (PEL) at 50 …

May 11, 2016 by Katie Tracy
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Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline." 

If you've never worked on an assembly or production line, you may wonder why workers need approval to use the bathroom in the first place. The processing line at a poultry plant moves rapidly, which means when one worker leaves the line, another must take his or her place to keep up with production. Typically, the employer will have a system in place for workers to signal when they need a …

April 28, 2016 by Matt Shudtz
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Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce.

There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work. They tell us that we have a long way to go before the real value of workers' time, effort, and dedication to their jobs is respected and honored.

40,000 Verizon workers are on strike. The contract dispute is complicated, but one of the core issues is the company's threat to move jobs from one location to another, like so many interchangeable, faceless component parts …

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