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July 2, 2020 by Michael C. Duff

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

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 with the prospect of broadly establishing "liability statutes" in which employees' burdens for bringing railroad and maritime civil actions were lightened and affirmative defenses limited. (These experiments have more narrowly lived on in the form of FELA and the Jones Act).

The railroad experience, and dangerous industrial work generally, made everyone realize, virtually …

July 1, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
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When California adopted its first-in-the-nation regulations requiring truck electrification on June 25, the state took a step (or drove a mile) toward reducing pollution in the nation's most vulnerable communities. The new regulation exemplifies a key feature of California's approach: its integration of climate goals, clean air goals, and, at least in this case, environmental justice goals.

According to the press release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), trucks in California contribute 80 percent of the state's diesel pollution and 70 percent of its smog-causing pollution while constituting less than 7 percent of registered vehicles. The rule's environmental assessment explains that particulate matter from diesel engines is responsible "for approximately 60 percent of the current estimated cancer risk for background ambient air." These risks are highest near freight hubs, including "ports, rail yards and distribution centers." And these areas, in turn, are often in …

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 19, 2020 by William Buzbee
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On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Trump administration's rescission of the Obama administration's immigration relief program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In explaining and then defending its DACA rollback, the Trump administration had raised an array of claims that, if accepted, would have undercut numerous regulatory rule of law fundamentals. Instead, the Court strengthened these longstanding requirements. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) v. Regents will become central to battles over the many Trump administration rollbacks and reversals of environmental and other regulations.

In the Trump DACA rescission, the administration relied heavily on an argument it has often deployed to justify regulatory rollbacks. It claimed that the Obama administration DACA policy was so legally flawed that the Trump team had no choice but to reverse the policy. And in this DACA rescission, like many of its environmental regulatory rollbacks, the …

June 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

On June 16, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided two cases that add to the legal difficulties the Trump EPA will face in court. The difficulties relate to two proposed EPA rules that attempt to hamstring future efforts to impose tighter restrictions on pollution. Both EPA rules rely on vague, general grants of rulemaking authority from Congress. That just became more tenuous.

One of the EPA proposals is the so-called "science transparency rule," which is perversely designed to limit EPA's future ability to utilize well-regarded scientific studies. The other proposal will reduce the agency's flexibility in conducting cost-benefit analysis of future regulations.

In attempting to find legal authority for these rules, EPA has looked to general grants of rulemaking authority. One such law is the Federal Housekeeping Act. That law (which may not actually apply to …

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 …

June 15, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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While I suspect that workers' compensation claims, even without the aid of workers' compensation causation presumptions, may fare better than some actuaries suspected (preliminary scuttlebutt of about a 40 percent success rate is higher than I expected), there is no reasonable doubt that large numbers of workers will ultimately go uncovered under workers' compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I have argued throughout my postings on this blog, workers' compensation exclusions and denials will pose many challenging legal questions. In the meantime, however, many disabled workers will simply find themselves uncompensated (some may receive assistance under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program; eligibility is tricky, however, because under state unemployment compensation law an individual must generally be available for work – and not disabled – in order to qualify, a topic beyond the scope of this post).

In short, there are gaps and fissures appearing under state workers' compensation …

June 11, 2020 by Katie Tracy, Brian Gumm
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In a June 11 order, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an AFL-CIO writ of mandamus asking the court to compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to do more to protect workers from infectious diseases, such as COVID-19. The order continues the dangerous status quo of workers laboring with no enforceable protections from the highly contagious and deadly virus.

On March 6, the AFL-CIO petitioned OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard to address the significant hazards of COVID-19 infection in the workplace, followed by a permanent standard to continue safeguarding workers from infectious diseases. From health care, to meatpacking plants, to warehouses, and a variety of other workplaces, employers have not done nearly enough to protect workers from the pandemic. This has resulted in infections, deaths, and enormous economic damage. Despite the grave dangers COVID-19 poses to workers, their families, and their …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 2, 2020

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

July 1, 2020

California Keeps on Truckin'

June 19, 2020

Supreme Court Affirms Title VII Protections for LGBTQ+ Community

June 19, 2020

The Supreme Court's DACA Decision, Environmental Rollbacks, and the Regulatory Rule of Law

June 18, 2020

The Climate Crisis and Heat Stress: Maryland Farms Must Adapt to Rising Temperatures

June 18, 2020

D.C. Circuit Restricts 'Housekeeping' Regulations

June 17, 2020

OSHA, Other Agencies Need to Step Up on COVID-19, Future Pandemics