State and Local Enforcement Project

The role of states and localities in protecting workers’ rights has never been more important. New officials and agencies are engaging in labor standards enforcement, new laws are being passed and new enforcement strategies are being tested. The Enforcement Project, funded in part by the Public Welfare Foundation, fills a critical need in examining and strengthening innovative state and local actions and initiatives. 

The Enforcement Project works with government agencies and officials engaged in enforcing workplace laws. Among other things, the project:

  • Collaborates with state attorneys general, convening a network of offices interested in protecting the working people of their states;
  • Seeks to develop the potential role of district attorneys in enforcing workplace laws; and
  •  Provides technical assistance to state and local government labor agencies, as well as to worker organizations and advocacy groups seeking to collaborate more effectively with government.
  • Conducts research on matters affecting low-wage workers, and potential ways states and municipalities can address their needs.

Enforcement Project in the News

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One Way To Protect Workers In A Pandemic: Make It Harder To Fire Them

May 22, 2020

By Dave Jamieson
HuffPost

Unionized workers are far more likely to speak out about dangerous working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s no mystery as to why.

Workers who have weak job protections are fearful to speak up, lest they get punished or even fired. The vast majority of Americans work “at will” ― meaning their employers can get rid of them for almost any reason, as long as it isn’t discriminatory. 

And while workers have a nominal right to refuse dangerous work, the law is weak and puts the burden of proof on employees.

“Protection against unlawful firings is absolutely critical right now,” Gerstein said. “Workers need to be able to speak up without threat of losing their jobs. That’s important for worker safety and for public health.”... Read more about One Way To Protect Workers In A Pandemic: Make It Harder To Fire Them

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How States and Localities Can Protect Workplace Safety and Health

May 15, 2020

Jane Flanagan, Terri Gerstein, Patricia Smith
Labor and Work LIfe Program and 
National Employment Law Project

As states consider how to protect public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, various questions have arisen about their ability to do so: Specifically, to what degree is state action in the health and safety arena preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and federal enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA)? How can states and cities take action to protect workers and members of the public without running into federal preemption issues? This paper provides a basic explanation of OSHA preemption and describes some potential sources of authority and avenues for action by states and localities wishing to protect working people in their jurisdictions.

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News Articles: "We can only do so much’? Here’s what experts say Pa., Philly can do to protect workers during the coronavirus." by Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/16/20

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State and local labor standards enforcement during COVID-19

April 28, 2020
By Terri Gerstein and Jane Flanagan
Economic Policy Institute 

The need to safeguard workers’ physical health and financial stability is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. State and local labor enforcement agencies are critical to such efforts, particularly given the federal administration’s abdication of leadership on worker-protection issues. Yet responding to the current crisis will require state and local labor agencies to quickly reorient to a new reality and repurpose their staff and routine functions in new and creative ways. As former state enforcers, we share the following ideas about how such agencies might utilize tested and effective strategic enforcement strategies and tools to respond to this moment.

Enforcement Project - Publications

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