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June 17, 2020 by Thomas McGarity

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

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 fall disproportionately on Black, Latinx, and low-income workers – people whose economic circumstances and less reliable access to health care renders them all the more vulnerable. These workers are being treated as expendable, forced by the threat of losing their jobs to accept risks no member of Congress or White House staffer would accept …

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 …

June 1, 2020 by James Goodwin
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It is now beyond debate – or at least it should be – that we, the people of the United States, have been failed by the Trump administration and its conservative apologists in Congress in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They failed to put in place mechanisms for systematic testing and contact tracing. They failed to coordinate the efficient acquisition of essential medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment. They failed to provide for an orderly phase-down of non-essential economic activity. They failed to establish clear, enforceable safety standards protect consumers, workers, and their families engaged in essential economic activity. This stopped being a public health crisis a long time ago. The pandemic is now more fairly characterized as a crisis of government.

Fortunately, our democracy has a crucial safety valve that stands ever ready to kick in when our representatives fail to protect us: the …

May 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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A recent, interesting lawsuit filed against McDonald's, in Cook County, Illinois, suffers from few of the deficiencies that I have identified in prior postings about public nuisance cases related to COVID-19 (see here and here). The named employee-plaintiffs allege "negligence" in what might look at first blush like a drop-dead workers' compensation case. This time, however, there is a wrinkle: The negligence action is pursued against both franchisor-McDonalds (McDonald's USA) and certain of McDonald's franchise restaurants (McDonald's Restaurant of Illinois, Inc., Lexi Management LLC, and DAK4, LLC). One may be the employer (subject to workers' compensation liability), and the others may not (and therefore be liable in tort). Because you cannot know in advance how the question will come out, you allege negligence with respect to each defendant. This is perfectly sensible.

It will be politically …

May 20, 2020 by Alejandro Camacho, Robert Glicksman
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Much of the discussion of the Trump administration's failed handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has focused on its delayed, and then insufficiently urgent, response, as well as the President's apparent effort to talk and tweet the virus into submission. All are fair criticisms. But the bungled initial response—or lack of response—was made immeasurably worse by the administration's confused and confusing allocation of authority to perform or supervise tasks essential to reducing the virus's damaging effects. Those mistakes hold important lessons.

The administration's management of the pandemic has been hampered by misallocation of authority along three different but interacting dimensions. First, it has been marred by overlapping authority that has resulted in waste, while failing to capitalize on this overlap's potential to safeguard against shirking and inaction. Second, it has reflected a thoughtless mix of centralized and …

May 19, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP) plays a vital role in protecting workers from employers who cut corners on safety or who violate other federal laws: It protects those workers who report such abuses from retaliation, making it harder for employers to get away with breaking the law. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. The 23 separate federal statutes the program encompasses cover a wide range of corporate wrongdoing, including violations of clean air and drinking water standards, food safety standards, workplace health and safety standards, and much more. If an employer retaliates against an employee for taking any of the actions covered by these laws, the employee may file a retaliation complaint with OSHA for investigation.

OSHA's WPP is critical for ensuring workers have safe and healthy workplaces where they can raise concerns without fear of retaliation. But …

May 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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In recent weeks, as a result of cramped conditions and inadequate protections, several U.S. meat plants have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers. In one particularly stunning instance, a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa, shut down after 730 workers (58 percent of the plant's workforce) tested positive. New data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the virus spreads at more than twice the national rate in counties with major meatpacking plants. The United States now faces a meat shortage, a direct result of a broken food system – one that is built to reliably feed the bottom line of industrial agriculture at the expense of public health.

Despite the chaos, federal agencies’ responses seem to favor industry over worker and consumer health. In March, the Food and Drug Administration postponed in-person inspections at factories, canneries, and poultry farms, then in April gave a number …

May 14, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Listening in on Tuesday's Senate Hearing on Corporate Liability During the Coronavirus Pandemic – you can find the video here and do a text search for "workers' compensation" – I was especially pleased to hear workers' compensation immunity discussed at 1:14:20 to about 1:14:50. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island specifically asked whether blanket corporate immunity would constitute subsidization of workers' compensation insurers. Witness Professor David Vladeck of Georgetown University Law Center responded that it very well could if workers' compensation were not carved out of the bill. I did not hear anyone contend during the hearing that workers' compensation could not be part of an immunity blanket, which is food for thought.

Coincidentally, I had been reading in The Atlantic as the Senate hearing was commencing an exceptionally good and sobering account of …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 8, 2020

Pandemic's Other Casualty: Expertise

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers

Aug. 24, 2020

Pandemic Lessons in Governance

July 29, 2020

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

July 29, 2020

Who Could Possibly Have Guessed?