Workers' Rights

All workers have the right to a safe and healthful workplace and a fair wage. But the American workplace has changed dramatically since many of our labor laws were last updated, creating new hazards for workers, and transforming the relationship between employer and employee. New, bigger, more powerful equipment has come online. New chemicals and other toxic substances have come into routine use. New production and construction methods have been introduced.

At the same time, more and more employers rely on “contingent” workers instead of permanent employees to perform jobs at all levels. Employers are also fighting grassroots efforts to raise the minimum wage, denying sick leave and family medical leave, misclassifying workers to avoid overtime pay, and retaliating against workers who report wrongdoing.

Worker deaths or injuries resulting from conditions that violate workplace safety laws are still too common. Often, rather than treating these deadly violations of the law as subjects for criminal investigation, prosecutors simply defer to OSHA or comparable state agencies, significantly reducing the scope of possible penalties, and reducing any deterrent effect as violations are "punished" with light fines. CPR's first-of-its-kind Crimes Against Workers database catalogs state criminal cases brought by enlightened prosecutors, as well as grassroots advocacy campaigns against employers responsible for workers being killed, maimed, or seriously endangered on the job.

Through research and scholarship, CPR Member Scholars and staff offer local, state, and federal policymakers and prosecutors tools to make sure all workers have a safe workplace and a fair deal for their labor. See their work below. Use the search box to narrow the list.

Barack Obama's Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions [UPDATED]

In 2014, the Center for Progressive Reform issued a report identifying 13 key regulatory actions that the Obama administration should be certain to finish before June of 2016, in order to ensure that the rules would 1) make it out of the regulatory pipeline during Obama's tenure, and 2) be finalized in time to be safe from repeal by the successor administration. In 2016, CPR followed up to see whether the Obama administration had adopted the necessary sense of urgency. (Read the online version of this report for the 2016 updates.)

Type: Reports (Aug. 1, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor, James Goodwin, Matt Shudtz, Anne Havemann
OSHA Penalties Are Too Low for Serious Workplace Violations

OSHA Penalties Are Too Low for Serious Workplace Violations, op-ed by Martha McCluskey

Type: Op-Eds (July 18, 2016)
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Author(s): Martha McCluskey
Workplace Safety Civil Penalties Comments

Letter to OSHA on Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Catch-Up Adjustments from Martha McCluskey, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, and Katherine Tracy, July 11, 2016.

Type: Letters to Agencies (July 12, 2016)
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Author(s): Martha McCluskey, Sidney Shapiro, Thomas McGarity, Katie Tracy
The President’s Schizophrenia on the Working Class

Writing for The Huffington Post, Rena Steinzor and Matthew Shudtz call on President Obama to focus more energy on OSHA's obligation to protect workers on the job from a range of safety hazards.

Type: Op-Eds (June 30, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor, Matt Shudtz
OSHA's Discount on Danger: OSHA Should Revise Its Informal Settlement Policies to Maximize the Deterrent Value of Citations

More than 30,000 workers have died as a result of on-the-job injuries since 2009, many because their employers failed to follow safety procedures -- violations for which OSHA imposed fines. But a report from CPR finds that OSHA is routinely discounting those fines, greatly diminishing any deterrent value.

Type: Reports (June 9, 2016)
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Author(s): Martha McCluskey, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, Katie Tracy
When a Workplace Tragedy Is Also a Crime

Writing for FairWarning and the Sacramento Bee, Rena Steinzor and Katie Tracy point to recent on-the-job deaths that resulted from employer negligence and call for prosecution of companies, supervisors and executives who cut corners at the expense of their employees life and limb.

Type: Op-Eds (May 31, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor, Katie Tracy
Worker Deaths Should Lead to Punishment for Companies, Executives

Worker Deaths Should Lead to Punishment for Companies, Executives, op-ed by Rena Steinzor and Katie Tracy

Type: Op-Eds (May 31, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor, Katie Tracy
Dangerous Bedfellows: The stalemate on criminal justice reform.

Writing for The American Prospect, Rena Steinzor takes note of the unusual roll call of supporters for criminal justice reform legislation, and efforts by conservatives to use the bill to weaken enforcement of white-collar crime laws.

Type: Op-Eds (May 11, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor
Judgment Day for Reckless Executives

Judgment Day for Reckless Executives, op-ed by Rena Steinzor

Type: Op-Eds (April 7, 2016)
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Author(s): Rena Steinzor

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