September 2, 2014 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

As Celeste Monforton and I were putting together 2014 edition of The Year in U.S. Occupational Health and Safety (which she introduced yesterday), we noticed that a lot of the good news about workers winning better conditions was coming from cities and states. Victories include:

Cities and states raise minimum wages: Thanks to laws passed over the past year, eight states and four other jurisdictions will have minimum wages at or above $10 per hour. (They’ll join cities that already have minimum wages at or above $10/hour, like San Francisco and San Jose.) Some of these jurisdictions take the important step of indexing the wages to inflation, which allows workers to get future raises without tedious legislative battles.

Cities expand access to paid sick leave: New Jersey’s biggest cities, Jersey City and Newark, joined the list of jurisdictions requiring some or all employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave. New York City and Washington, DC amended their existing paid-leave laws to cover more workers.

California and Massachusetts adopt protections for domestic workers: Over the past year, both California and Massachusetts passed laws strengthening the rights of domestic workers. They join New York and Hawaii in legislating protections for nannies, housekeepers, and other in-home workers, in response to reports of household employees who have experienced wage theft, round-the-clock shifts, abuse, and harassment from employers.

Texas and Maryland take steps to protect healthcare workers: Over the past year, a Texas law that makes it a felony offense to assault emergency-department personnel took effect, while Maryland passed the Health Care Facilities Workplace Violence Prevention Act. Several states have already passed laws designed to protect healthcare workers from violence; the American Nurses Association summarizes different state laws that cover nurses here.

Minnesota bill package aims to level the playing field for working women: Minnesota’s legislature gave bipartisan approval to, and the Governor signed, the Women’s Economic Security Act, which combines nine separate bills “designed to break down barriers to economic progress facing women ─ and all Minnesotans.” The law includes an increase in the minimum wage, requirements for reasonable accommodations for pregnant women, provisions addressing the gender pay gap, and more.

Houston takes a stand against wage theft: A new City of Houston ordinance contains substantial penalties for any person or firm who is criminally convicted of wage theft and exhausts all appeals. Convicted wage thieves will be barred from renewing 46 types of city permits and licenses for five years. The ordinance also prohibits the city from hiring those who are criminally convicted or who are assessed civil penalties for wage theft. A group of 13 workers filed the first complaint under the ordinance in April 2014.

When occupational health and safety problems arise, advocates and journalists both play important roles in bringing them to light and pressing for resolution. Organizations across the country (and the world) drew attention to unsafe workplaces during Workers Memorial Week, and released reports highlighting how on-the-job hazards kill workers in California, Massachusetts, Houston, Syracuse, Wyoming, Tennessee, and nationwide.

Media outlets covered unsafe conditions in local workplaces, including oil and gas fields in Texas; tank-cleaning operations in Houston and elsewhere; a lack of basic safety precautions at a Massachusetts hummus plant; and overloaded asbestos inspectors in Iowa.

We couldn’t cover all of the key developments over the past year, so we’d love to hear from commenters what kinds of important developments you’ve seen for worker health and safety at the state and local levels over the past year.

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