By Doug Parker, Executive Director
It is a frustrating but necessary effort when we have to fight for basic and obvious rights we thought workers already had. All of us in the activist community expect to be doing a lot more of this for the next four years as we wait for Washington to launch the next curveball at the American worker. However, as I confirmed last week, there are plenty of opportunities to do frustrating but necessary work without looking further east than Sacramento.
I was in our capital to join Mark Schacht of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CLRAF) and Mitch Seaman of the California Labor Federation in testifying before the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment in support of AB 978 (Limón). AB 978 would give workers the right to obtain a copy of their employers’ Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP). The IIPP is the employer’s basic plan for addressing workplace hazards, conducting health and safety training, and complying with the state’s health and safety standards. While the right of a worker to have a copy sounds unremarkable and self-evidently valuable, it is not expressly written into the statute, and so employers can, and do, refuse to provide workers with a copy.
AB 978 advances worker health and safety in three important ways. First, it makes IIPPs more effective by promoting employee involvement. Health and safety professionals agree that active employee involvement is required for any health and safety program to be effective. An employer that won’t even provide a copy of its plan is simply not serious about protecting workers.
Second, AB 978 gives employees the basic information they need to confirm that their employer is thoughtfully addressing health and safety. Workers have the most at stake if their employer’s IIPP is inadequate, ignored, or non-existent. They should have meaningful access to the plan so they can exercise agency in ensuring they are adequately protected from injury and illness.
Third, AB 978 allows employees to request the IIPP through an authorized representative. While direct employee/employer dialogue about health and safety should be encouraged, it is frequently the case that workers are too intimidated to ask questions or appear to be challenging management decisions. Worksafe knows firsthand from representing workers that their fear of reprisal for speaking out about OSHA violations is well-founded. But regardless of why workers are reluctant to speak out, the detrimental impact on health and safety is the same. Eliminating workers’ hesitation to request an IIPP due to fear or intimidation is the best interest of health and safety. Allowing workers to act through a union, safety committee, legal aid organization, or pastor will help do just that.
We will keep you updated on the progress of AB 978, and hope the Governor has the opportunity to sign it into law as soon as possible.