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Feb. 12, 2021 by Allison Stevens

'All Labor Has Dignity': It's Long Past Time to Realize King's Dream of Humane Working Conditions for All

A half century ago, hundreds of Black sanitation workers marched through Memphis carrying signs bearing four small words: "I am a man."

Their short slogan carried a powerful message: Low-paid Black workers are human, and they deserve to be treated as such. Their lives, to quote today's activists for racial justice, matter.

The slogan — and its larger campaign for racial and economic equity — challenged systemic oppression of Black people. And it took on underlying white supremacist beliefs that positioned them as less than human and unworthy of humane working conditions and pay.

The campaign was sparked by an incident on February 1, 1968, when Memphis city officials forced workers to collect garbage during a heavy rainstorm, according to The Washington Post. Two men took refuge from the rain in the back of their truck and were crushed when it malfunctioned. The city refused to compensate their families for their deaths.

A week and a half later, on February 12, hundreds of Black sanitation workers walked off the job, launching a months-long strike for better safety standards, decent wages, and recognition of their union, according to the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute at Stanford University. It drew support from King …

Feb. 9, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the recording of a related webinar or view on YouTube.

When the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was enacted 50 years ago, it was hailed as critical legislation that would make workplaces safer and healthier for all. Thanks to this law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made great strides toward protecting worker health and safety. Unfortunately, the law didn't go far enough then — and it doesn't go nearly far enough now.

The law, essentially unchanged since its enactment in 1970, has not kept up with the growing scale and changing nature of work in the 21st century. Rather, due to limited resources and authority and, at times, lack of political will, the agency has failed to address numerous well-known workplace hazards or emerging ones, like COVID-19, climate hazards, and artificial intelligence.

One of the …

Feb. 8, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County).

If you’re one of roughly 2 million Marylanders whose drinking water comes from a private well, you or your property owner is responsible for maintaining the well and ensuring its water is safe — no exceptions. That’s because federal clean water laws don’t cover private wells or small water systems, and state-level protections vary dramatically. In Maryland, those protections are few and far between.

In a recent Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) report on state-level efforts to protect private well owners, Maryland ranked among the five states with the fewest protections. Unlike other states, Maryland doesn’t offer well owners free or low-cost water testing kits or require water quality test results be disclosed during property sales. While the state does require new wells to meet certain …

Feb. 5, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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All workers need the ability to earn paid sick days so they can take leave from their jobs to care for themselves or their loved ones when they are sick or injured. The coronavirus pandemic has made the need for this basic right — guaranteed to workers in other wealthy nations but not here in the United States — clearer than ever.

Paid sick leave is more than a workers’ rights issue. It’s also a civil rights issue.

Lawyers, engineers, and others in the higher-paying “professional” class are far more likely than frontline, lower-income workers to have access to paid sick leave, the American Civil Liberties Union recently noted. They’re also more likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic, putting them at far less risk of contracting COVID-19.

And they’re more likely to be white.

Due to long-standing structural inequities and intentional …

Feb. 4, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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Born February 4, 1913, Rosa Parks would become a leader of the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to vacate her seat on a public transportation bus for a white man. Her decision inspired the Black community of Montgomery to boycott buses for over a year. In 1956, a federal court deemed that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

When she later penned her autobiography, Parks wrote that though she had seen progress in her lifetime, there was still much work to be done in the way of racial justice.

Today, on her birthday, racial equity and progressive groups across the country are commemorating #TransitEquityDay. The effort promotes awareness of the inequities in public transit, which is frequently inaccessible and unaffordable. What’s more, to combat the climate crisis and air pollution that …

Feb. 4, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Virginia's General Assembly is more than halfway through its legislative session — and state lawmakers are considering several important bills that would address environmental justice, pipelines, climate change, and public health. If passed, these bills will establish lasting environmental, health, and climate change protections for Virginia and its communities. The bills we're watching would:

  • Turn the Commonwealth's stated environmental justice goals into a reality

    The Omnibus Environmental Justice Bill (House Bill 2074 and Senate Bill 1318) would direct Virginia's state and local agencies to adopt agency-specific environmental justice policies by October. Specifically, it would require agencies to evaluate the consequences of covered actions (such as approving a new natural gas pipeline or granting a permit to construct one) on low-income communities and communities of color, which face disproportionate harm from polluters.

    The bill would also require agencies to consider the cumulative impact of their actions on …

Feb. 3, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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Since taking office, President Joe Biden has signaled a new openness to the concerns of our nation’s workers — and we at CPR are joining our allies today in calling on his administration to go much further to make workplace safety a top priority.

Biden’s early actions are auspicious. In his first days in office, Biden appointed qualified leaders to key labor posts and signed several executive orders to improve working conditions. Among those orders is one that directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue improved guidance to employers on protecting workers and to determine whether to issue an emergency standard to prevent and mitigate exposure to COVID-19.

Biden also withdrew an effort by the Trump administration to accelerate processing speeds at poultry plants, which would have forced workers to work faster and more closely together on the factory floor — and put workers …

Feb. 2, 2021 by Hannah Wiseman
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As President Biden continues to roll out executive orders prioritizing climate change, it is increasingly clear that there will be a relatively rapid U.S. shift toward renewable energy from the sun, wind and other sources.

Indeed, many states are already pushing ahead with ambitious renewable and clean energy policies. These policies will reduce air pollution, spur extensive economic development in rural areas and make progress on the climate front.

This “revolution,” as Biden calls it, is critical. But the bulk of renewables that have been built in the United States are large, centralized projects requiring thousands of miles of transmission lines — primarily in rural communities. A revolution that continues to prioritize these projects risks failure. It threatens to create an infrastructural path dependence like the one that “master builder” Robert Moses sparked in the 1950s. The federal highway …

Feb. 2, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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Last week, I joined Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County) and State Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Carroll and Howard counties) to discuss pollution threats to the state’s drinking water and legislation that, if enacted, would create a private well safety program in Maryland.

The quality of drinking water holds personal significance for both legislators. Stewart grew up in a small Alabama town where a Monsanto chemical factory knowingly dumped toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemicals in the local water supply. He has since developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer associated with PCB exposure — twice.

Hester has also confronted this issue. When she moved to Ellicott City a few years ago, she discovered that hazardous levels of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas associated with lung cancer, were leaching into her home’s well water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate radon, so homeowners like …

Feb. 1, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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CPR Member Scholar Daniel Farber originally wrote this commentary for The Appeal.

Introduction

Big Tobacco’s Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 was the largest civil settlement in the nation’s history and a transformative moment in the industry’s control. The accord reached by 46 states, five United States territories, and the District of Columbia required tobacco manufacturers to pay the states billions of dollars annually in compensation for the public health crisis their products had created.

Today, an even bigger crisis looms, with increasing demands for accountability. Over a dozen federal cases have now been filed against oil companies, seeking damages for their role in causing climate change. With one exception, the cases have been brought by states or local governments that claim they and their citizens are suffering harm from climate change. (The exception is a case brought by Pacific Coast fishing companies for harm …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 13, 2021

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Is the Maryland Department of the Environment Cleaning Up Its Act When It Comes to Enforcement?

May 7, 2021

The Ninth Circuit Makes EPA an Offer It Can't Refuse

May 6, 2021

Connect the Dots Season Five Continues with Exploration of Carbon Capture

May 4, 2021

The Environmental Forum: When the System Fosters Racial Injustice

May 4, 2021

The Hill Op-Ed: Climate Action Supporters: The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Not Your Friend

May 3, 2021

Maryland Must Take Stronger Steps to Regulate Toxic Stormwater from Industrial Sites to Protect Marylanders and their Waterways

April 29, 2021

Progress for Puerto Rico: Biden Administration Lifts Trump-Era Restrictions on Disaster Relief