By Stephen Knight, Executive Director
Worker advocates showed up in force to the Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board monthly meeting on July 16, seeking strong and enforceable workplace protections for all Californians. Kicking off the general public comment, I told the Board Worksafe is proud to stand with a growing list of organizations pushing for greater health and safety accountability in California's workplaces.
I pointed out that we are learning daily about new workplace outbreaks, from nursing homes to packing houses, fast food restaurants to garment factories. Workplaces are both receiving and generating COVID-19 cases, spreading infection and sending workers home to their families. In Fresno, half the staff of the Harris Ranch Beef Company missed work because of the virus. In LA, the Los Angeles Apparel factory was shut down by public health officials with over 300 confirmed infections among the workers and four known deaths. The situation has only worsened in the weeks since.
Several other advocates spoke about the need for an emergency standard at the meeting, including the Warehouse Worker Resource Center’s Research & Policy Coordinator Mirella Deniz-Zaragoza, who stated that for the Inland Empire warehouse workers they represent, the existing guidance from Cal/OSHA is just not enough. Stan Santos of the Fresno, Madera, Tulare, King Counties Central Labor Council spoke passionately about the impact of COVID on workers in the Central Valley. Ramon Castellblanch with the California Association of Retired Americans also spoke for the standard. Kevin Riley with UCLA LOSH and Prof. Ed Flores with UC Merced presented data illustrating patterns of infections among frontline workers, including the disproportionate impact on economically distressed workers and families.
With infections spiraling out of control across the state, the case for our position is hard to rebut. Employer representatives made a few points about costs and unnecessary regulation. In the end, Board members were clearly taken by the outpouring of support, and they unexpectedly took up and passed by unanimous vote a resolution expressing the Board’s interest in having the standard on their August agenda.
Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, as Department of Industrial Relations Director Katie Hagen suggested that layers of review by the Newsom Administration might make that difficult. The “go slow” message was troubling. After mentioning recent agency visits to employers, she was unable to answer a question about how many citations Cal/OSHA has issued. We are eager to get this question answered.
New supporters continue to join since that meeting. You can see the whole list — and add your organization — here on our website. There’s lots of work to be done, and with your help we can keep the pressure on.