At Worksafe, we are devastated by the tragedy that took place in Uvalde, Texas, this week.
by Thais Forneret
Another mass shooting in the United States. Another school mass shooting in the United States. Nineteen children — second, third, and fourth graders — were murdered. Two of their teachers were shot down as well. Another. Mass shooting. In the United States.
How many more people need to die in order for us to take action?
Those teachers — those workers — went to their workplace in the morning and did not return home safely at the end of the day. Many parents sent their little children to school that day, to never see their children alive again. It could have been me. It could have been you. It could have been your child(ren). It could have been your friend, your relative who lost their lives so tragically.
Just recently there were mass shootings in New York and here in California and also in Wisconsin, which added up to almost 200 mass shootings that took place in this country this year. It’s not yet June.
We are not going to ask you for thoughts and prayers. Though thoughts and prayers are good, we need action. So we ask you to write to your elected officials and demand that they pass gun safety regulations. We stand with you, and we will keep calling and writing, advocating for change in this country’s society, culture and laws, until we transform into a safer and more just community.
by Stephen Knight
Congress has issued a report on the collusion between the US Department of Agriculture and the meatpacking industry, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, to block necessary protections for workers and keep their dangerous plants open. The report is titled: Now to get rid of those pesky healthy departments!
As with so many Trump-era outrages, it seems that a lot of what happened was apparent at the time. The industry immediately knew of the extreme risk to their workforce. A 2020 lawsuit disclosed that managers at a Tyson plant placed bets on how many of their employees would get the deadly disease. And “company executives intentionally stoked fears about meat shortages in order to justify continuing to operate the plants under dangerous conditions.” In response to the sham meat shortages, the administration invoked the Defense Production Act — a measure it “had refused to use… to help the victims of COVID-19.” Hundreds of workers died.
The Congressional report documents anti-worker safety collusion between some of the wealthiest and most powerful entities in the nation: federal Cabinet officials and near-monopoly corporate interests. Here in California, Foster Farms executives identified COVID-19 worker protections as an obstacle to their profit making. Federal officials leaped to intervene against the workers, and to “intimidate” public health officials trying to protect their community in Merced County:
By May 2020, meatpacking companies and political appointees at USDA were regularly attempting to stifle regulatory attempts by state and local health authorities in order to force plants to stay open despite coronavirus risks. For example, on May 15, 2020, an industry representative emailed Under Secretary Brashears, Under Secretary Ibach, and their respective deputies a document containing “new CA guidance,” noting that it said to “Practice six-foot physical distancing to the greatest extent possible” and highlighting in yellow a clause saying: “even if this means production slows down.” Without first asking whether or why the representative took issue with this document, Brashears responded saying, “We will discuss ASAP and get back to you.” Later that day, the representative emailed other trade associations, saying that she was “on the phone with USDA” before noting that the California guidance was “Not consistent with USDA expectations and the OSHA/CDC guidance or the EO,” referencing OSHA/CDC guidance for meatpacking plants and an executive order that, as explained in Sections III(b)(iii) and (v), were shaped heavily by meatpacking companies.
A particularly stark example of meatpacking companies’ use of USDA political officials to strong-arm state and local health departments occurred in connection with attempts by California’s Merced County Department of Public Health (MCPH) to address a coronavirus outbreak at Foster Farms’ Livingston, California plant that left at least 392 workers sick and eight workers dead. Previous reporting disclosed that MCPH officers received outreach from federal officials telling them they could not shut down the plant after a health order was issued that would have required a suspension of operations. Internal documents received by the Select Subcommittee, as well as survey calls with MCPH officials, now confirm that Foster Farms used USDA to intimidate MCPH and to try to stop MCPH from shutting down the plant.
There is a town hall meeting in Livingston on Sunday May 29 at 1:30p at the Sikh Gurdwara Livingston, 2765 Peach Ave., to share the Congressional findings with the community.
This violation of public trust by government officials and contempt for employee safety by corporate interests is deeply disturbing. And unless there is accountability for this behavior, it is likely to happen again.
by Karin Umfrey
Wake up in the morning, step outside for that morning walk, and you realize — the sky looks hazy. Due to pollution, this seems a more common reality. But when it’s wildfire season, the air quality is so much worse.
In California, there are groups of folks particularly vulnerable to this exposure: unsheltered residents and outdoor workers. Outdoor workers are especially vulnerable due to the type of work they do and chronic exposure to unhealthy air quality. With chronic exposure, workers may develop more vulnerability such as asthma that can then make them more susceptible to heart and lung conditions at lower air quality levels than before.
Worksafe supports three related bills that would support farmworkers in wildfire zones: AB 2847, AB 2538 and SB 1044. This work comes out of our years of advocacy for worker protections from wildfire smoke and advocacy with our powerful coalition partners North Bay Jobs with Justice, Lideres Campesinas, MICOP, CAUSE, and CRLAF at both the state and local levels.
AB 2847 creates unemployment benefits for workers who are excluded currently from unemployment due to their immigration status — called the “Excluded Workers Pilot Program.” Also, the bill requires the Labor Workforce Development Agency to make recommendations for establishing a permanent program. The purpose of this program is to provide relief to immigrant communities who were impacted hard by the COVID-19 pandemic when job losses occurred due to businesses closing. Californians excluded from unemployment benefits exhausted their savings and incurred debts to pay for the costs of housing, childcare, food, and other basic needs.
AB 2538 would create a wildfire notification system. Surprisingly California lacks a notification system on wildfires or any uniform published information on when a zone becomes a mandatory evacuation zone. For example, there was a wildfire that just broke out in Orange County — and workers in wildfire zones did not get a uniform message. News coverage, radio, and more can inform people, but if they only have their phones on them while working, they may not get the information. With an alert system, the phone should notify them of the danger in the area.
However, the bill should be stronger to address language access justice. Because most farmworkers do speak indigenous languages as their primary or only language, there should be amendments to the bill to include this and a plan of action so it is implemented. For example, MICOP (Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project/Proyecto Mixteco Indigena) is working with Ventura County on an indigenous language smoke alert system using audio messages.
Finally, SB 1044 is limited to apply in states of emergency that pose imminent and ongoing risk of harm to a workplace. After notifying the employer of the emergency condition leading to their inability to report, workers would be protected from an employer threatening adverse action or taking adverse action.
It would also require employers to allow workers to have access to their phones and would allow workers to leave the premises if they must do so for their safety. For example, with that alert system bill we just discussed, how would the workers know unless they had their phones?
When the Getty Fire raged through Los Angeles, it was domestic workers and landscapers who continued to enter evacuation zones to work. During North Bay fires, the counties granted passes to agricultural employers to send workers into smoke-laden fire zones to protect the crops, even while homeowners were advised to flee.
These state proposals are coming forward as Sonoma County is in the midst of deciding whether or not they should implement an Ag Pass Program rather than continuing with no oversight over employers during wildfires. Because agricultural workers in Sonoma County have faced significant health and safety issues, they have been ready and mobilizing to protect their lives.
Some of the protocols that should be implemented are “Disaster Paid Not Worked” so that an employee can choose not to work in a mandatory evacuation zone. When people are not paid, they tend not to take leave. It’s extremely difficult in California, especially if you are a low wage worker, to miss any work and still pay your bills on time. Justice requires a language access protocol so that the employees can receive evacuation and safety training in their primary or native language. There are many community-based organizations that are ready and available to assist with this in Sonoma. North Bay Jobs With Justice and others advocate for hazard pay for work in mandatory evacuation zones.
Sonoma County is in a moment where they can do something — advance a program to protect workers and create accountability for employers that want people to work in mandatory evacuation zones. While statewide rules would be great, the reality is that it takes time for the legislature to pass bills that address the problems all of California constituents and workers are facing. In the meantime, local governments have the authority and power to step in and protect the workers who are in their counties until that moment can happen.
The current Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for COVID-19 is set to expire on May 6th. A meeting on April 21st at 10am will determine whether it gets re-extended, and whether the requirements/restrictions will be relaxed or remain the same.
Business interests want to end the ETS and replace it with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance and the general Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) every workplace is required to have by law. This would make it easier for employers to de-prioritize worker COVID protections without consequence, between the fact that (to quote the proposed denial of the petition) “not all CDPH guidance has the force of law” and “the IIPP regulation is intentionally non-specific” (and therefore doesn’t lay out a COVID response.) Fortunately CAL/OSHA Board and Staff both recommend denying this petition.
State health & safety officials point out the fact that the need for the ETS is well established (emphasis added):
As a performance standard, the IIPP was relied on during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the ETS becoming effective. The Board, after hearing testimony from the public and subject matter experts, determined that relying on the IIPP alone was not providing employers with the necessary information and regulatory structure to best protect employees from COVID-19. As a result, the Board determined that the ETS would be necessary.
This discussion is a good sign for a permanent standard to be put in place in regards to how to handle infectious airborne diseases in the workplace, as all evidence suggests we will face more of them in the years to come. (These emergency rules expire for good in December.)
In other good news, they are proposing to keep exclusion pay in place (which means that if you are sent home because you have COVID due to a workplace exposure, you will get paid for the time you’re missing).
There are other parts of the proposal that are not as great, such as rolling back what remained of masking rules. And the fact is that general public health orders are not meant for specific workplaces, so relying on them in this manner will leave gaps in safety protections for workers.
You can read the whole thing here. Nothing is official yet–we’ll keep you informed about what is actually decided. Stay tuned!
By AnaStacia Nicol Wright
On February 28th, 2022, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order (EO N-5–22) which ended the indoor face mask mandate for California workers in the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). While being relieved from this mandate was a welcome change for many, it left other patrons, students and workers feeling very uneasy. However, the end of the mask mandate did not infringe on the right to request masks from employers.
Gov. Newsom’s order makes Cal/OSHA’s workplace protection rules consistent with the state’s general public health guidance, and has two components. One, it rescinds the rule (CCR, title 8, section 3205(c)(6)(A)) which requires employers to provide face coverings for all employees who are not fully vaccinated. The sections that require employers to ensure that face coverings are worn when employees are indoors or in vehicles also ended. Two, it extends the 90 day period before the ETS expires by an additional 21 days.
The current COVID-19 ETS remains in place until the middle of May 2022 and must be enforced in a manner consistent with the EO. This means that the ETS cannot be used to require employers to ensure their workers still wear masks. But it still allows workers the right to request face coverings from their employer.
The rule prohibits employers from preventing their employees from wearing a face covering (Title 8, section 3205(c)(6)(G)) even when sections 3205.1–3205.4 does not require it. So, all employees still have the right to wear a face mask at their choosing. Their employer could only infringe on this right if their face covering would interfere with the safe operation of equipment or otherwise create a safety hazard.
Furthermore, the ETS requires employers to provide face coverings to an employee who requests it (title 8, section 3205(c)(6)(H)). Thereby obligating employers to grant an employee’s request for a mask. Moreover, employers compliance with this section does not depend on a worker’s vaccination status. And it also requires any employee requested face coverings be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee and regardless of vaccination status (CCR, title 8, section 3205(c)(5)(J)). Thus vaxxed and unvaxxed employees must be provided a proper face covering by their employer upon request.
In short, the end of the mask mandate does not restrict your right to mask up at work. Nor does it relieve employers from making masks available upon request.
Per this new schedule, Worksafe will be closed on the first Friday of each month. We took this step to be even more in line with our policies to support the health and well-being of California workers — and that includes us! We can’t effectively help the community achieve healthy and safe workplaces without doing the work internally first.
Jessica Martinez is the co-executive director for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and a candidate to serve as the Chief of Cal/OSHA. We caught up with Jessica to learn more about what she’s all about.
by Jora Trang
I’ve been in the trenches of occupational health and safety work with Jessica Martinez for the past decade pushing for increased worker power and better working conditions. Worksafe is proud to endorse Jessica along with many of our allies and partners for the position of Cal OSHA Chief. Governor Newsom is currently considering candidates for this position so if you haven’t already joined others such as UFCW, SEIU, Western State Council, CA Teamsters Public Affairs Council, UNITE HERE, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Conference of Machinists, CA Legislative Latino Caucus, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and the California Labor Fed, feel free to reach out to the Governor’s Appointments Office to let them know. Many of us showed our support in a collaborative endorsement letter that was sent to the Governor in November.
Jessica is the co-executive director for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) where she has led an exceptional and dedicated team for over nine years at the national level. In her position, she spearheaded a national network with over 26 local organizations and led program development, organizing efforts, public policy and education initiatives. She has earned and gained the trust of worker advocates and leaders across the country. This has led to National COSH’s ability to build and strengthen coalitions throughout the nation that engage workers as leaders in achieving critical workplace health and safety improvements.
Jessica’s experiences in worker health and safety have been extensive and enriched by her personal and professional encounters. She is the proud daughter of immigrant parents who held various jobs in the service sector to sustain their family. She has over two decades supporting and advocating for the safety and health of workers in California and across the country. At the core of her work is her passion, leadership, and dedication to workers’ rights, which she and many of her supporters believe make her the ideal candidate to serve as the Chief of Cal/OSHA. She is committed to protecting workers and continuously improving workplace safety and health, especially those most vulnerable to poor working conditions — low-wage workers of color, immigrants, women, and youth.
But let’s hear from Jessica. We caught up with Jessica to learn more about what she’s all about.
Question: You’ve actually been an advocate for workers rights for a long time. How did you start out?
Jessica: Being the daughter of a union leader and human rights activist father, I learned at a very young age the value of safe and quality jobs. However, I immersed myself as a worker rights advocate while studying at UCLA and simultaneously supporting food service workers on campus to gain access to safe jobs and fair pay. It was important to me to find the intersection between being a student at a prestigious academic institution and ensuring that its prestige was also rooted in providing quality jobs for all its workers.
Question: What is your leadership style and what has that experience looked like?
Jessica: I provide strategic, collaborative, and innovative leadership. As a tactical leader, I have led facilitation and development of strategic planning that have led to successful implementation of work plans and organizational goals. In addition, implemented capacity building programs for organizations and professional development opportunities for staff and board leaders.
Establishing key partnerships and collaborations has proven critical to achieving transformational change. I establish partnerships among diverse stakeholders — workers, public health and health and safety technical professionals, directors and staff of different organizations across the country, legal reps and lawyers, labor reps, and government representatives.
Lastly, I have led several work groups and committees in local and national efforts to recommend and oversee the implementation of OSH policy — including the development of the National Agenda for Worker Health and Safety, served on National Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) under the Obama Administration, Temp Worker Health and Safety Convene, among many others. Finally, I have extensive experience serving as the public spokesperson of national efforts promoting worker safety and health. In this capacity have managed public interviews among the media and press and have served as speaker at special events.
Question: What has been the fuel or fire for your work? Why are you so passionate about workers’ health and safety?
Jessica: Throughout my years working in the field of occupational safety and health, I have learned of tragic stories of workers dying on the job and workers suffering severe injury and/or illness, all which could have been prevented. I believe that every worker should return home safe and sound to their loved ones after their work shift… this should not only be a worker’s right but an essential human right! A healthy worker has a domino effect on their family and community, which in turn creates a healthy society. I am passionate about creating a fair, equal, and healthy society!
Question: What work have you done with industry or employers to ensure a healthy and safe workplace?
Jessica: I am experienced in the development and implementation of robust health and safety education programs for small businesses. While working for the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, I supported diverse small business owners throughout CA and the country to incorporate multilingual safety plans and training for workers. One of my specialities is convening multiple stakeholders to execute shared goals and objectives to maintain high standards for safe workplaces.
I am in tune with the needs and challenges of small businesses during the ongoing pandemic. My leadership and vision communicate clearly the benefits of small businesses having a preventative plan to minimize workplace hazards and implement safety procedures that build healthy and productive businesses that support the owners and the workforce.
And there you have it. Now, more than ever, with the pandemic still raging in workplaces across California, we need a Chief who understands the plight of workers. Once again, feel free to reach out to the Governor’s Appointment office at (916) 445–4541 to put a good word in.
By AnaStacia Nicol WrightPhoto by Sincerely Media on Unsplash
Worksafe is located in the heart of downtown Oakland. We’ve been here for four decades; we consider ourselves locals. As locals we very much miss the pre-pandemic fanfare of First Fridays in Oakland. So much so that we had to bring it back, revamped!
Back in October of 2021 Worksafe’s management team approved a new work schedule. Per this new schedule, Worksafe will be closed on the first Friday of each month, which started on November 5, 2021. Known internally as “First Fridays!” (well, that’s what I keep tryna make catch on :-)).
Oh and did we mention the mandatory day off is PAID!!
We took this step to be even more in line with our policies to support the health and well-being of California workers — and that includes us! We can’t effectively help the community achieve healthy and safe workplaces without doing the work internally first. And while we’re all still adjusting to the shift, the feedback has been positive (because, afterall, what worker reacts negatively to a paid day off?!).
One of the small hiccups we’re working through is schedule management. Although Worksafe is off on the first Friday of every month, the rest of you aren’t. Therefore, we tend to come back to a hoard of emails, requests, etc.
How to arrange our schedules so that we can take these Fridays’ off without coming back on Monday and feeling overwhelmed is the process we’re working on; but, we’re committed to it.
Another small issue is how to handle meetings, hearings, conferences, training, etc. that other organizations need us to attend on those days. There are a few things to iron out like making sure taking the day off doesn’t actually cause a pile-up of work when we all come back…but, again, we’re working on it.
As radical as all this may sound, it isn’t. The 40 hour work week, as we now know it, was created in 1938 when Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor and Standards Act. Now, there’s plenty of good stuff in there, however, IT’S OOOOLD.
In writing this, we hope to encourage other employers out there to consider renegotiating this “social contract”. It may seem crazy, but imagine the uproar when Illinois was the first state in the U.S.A to mandate an 8 hour work-day. Or, how flabbergasted folks probably were when FDR said any time worked over 40 hours requires overtime pay.
It’s been almost 100 years. It’s time for a change. Family life is different. The way we understand the importance of mental health and personal care is different. Work-Life balance is only an idea, if employers don’t actually take the time to create policies conducive to truly balancing their employees’ life needs with their company’s work needs.
UJIMA — Collective Work with the Bay Area’s Black African Immigrant Population
By AnaStacia Nicol Wright
December 26th, 2021 kicked off my Kwanzaa celebrations this year. COVID and the Bar exam have hampered my usual celebrations. But, I was actually able to find fulfillment in my work of one of Kwanzaa’s main principles. Day 3 of Kwanzaa’s Nguzu Saba (7 Principles) is Ujima or Collective Work.
On Tuesday of this week I found myself eyeballs deep in this principle as I reviewed translations videos Worksafe contracted for through our CWOP grant. Our goal under this grant is to ensure vulnerable Bay Area communities have COVID-19 information, protective gear and vaccine access. As part of this goal, I found myself looking for ways to reach the African/Black immigrant community with our outreach efforts. However, we didn’t have any strong connections to the African immigrant community.
Eventually, with the help of Aron Berhane with Black Alliance for Immigrant Justice, I was able to identify some of the main languages spoken in the Bay Area by this community: French, Igbo, Tigrinya and Swahilli. From there Aron and I worked together to find community members to create video and document translations of our California Workers Outreach Project (CWOP) materials.
The objective was to make the workers’ rights information accessible not only to readers of these languages, but also those who speak it, but struggle with their reading. Worksafe was able to apply funding provided by the Sierra Health Foundation in our CWOP to pay folks not just to translate written documents, but create video content as well.
This is what I spend my Tuesday or Ujima doing. The “Black” community speaks thousands of different languages and hail from hundreds of different places. We share a lot, yes. But there is also much that separates us. Bridging this gap is paramount in building collective strength to make sure all of our voices are heard and our needs met. Not just in the workplace but everywhere.
So, Joyous Kwanzaa to me despite COVID-19, the bar exam and awful weather. Many thanks to Aron Berhane, Mary Mbugua, Sylvain Breka and Ifunanya Nwanonyiri for collaborating with us on this project. Special thanks to to Shared Value Media for their support, especially Ariel Marsh, Carly Lynch and Tibein Tedemet. And of course, thank you to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Center at the Sierra Health Foundation for their support.
Worksafe just submitted our latest comments on the state of California's COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This round relates to Cal/OSHA's proposed "Second Re-adoption" of the ETS, which as an emergency rule is subject to specific emergency processes.
by Stephen Knight
Worksafe just submitted our latest comments on the state of California’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This round relates to Cal/OSHA’s proposed “Second Re-adoption” of the ETS, which as an emergency rule is subject to specific emergency processes.Cal/OSHA’s ETS web page
The first re-adoption was in June 2021. Unfortunately that timing overlapped with a low point of COVID concern among too many people in California, as well as with the Governor’s long-announced June 15 deadline for “reopening” the state. A number of appropriate and science-based recommendations from Cal/OSHA, such as requiring masks in indoor work environments without regard to vaccination status, were greeted with outrage by the business community and voted down by the OSH Standards Board. This decision was very widely and quickly seen as a mistake as the COVID Delta variant came on strongly in late summer, but it has not been undone. The vote was taken at a 10+ hour public meeting that was also attended by thousands of anti-public health protestors angrily asserting false and disturbing things, such as that face coverings are a health hazard.
Most Californians, at least, recognize the need for and efficacy of protective standards in the workplace. The proposal from Cal/OSHA we are now commenting on includes science-based recommendations that are in sync with the California Department of Public Health. Among other things, our limited comments ask the Standards Board to consider a broader definition of what constitutes a “case” in the workplace.
The ETS cannot be amended more than twice, and this version will be the last, expiring in April 2022.
Work is underway on a draft set of post-emergency COVID-related standards for the Standards Board to consider early next year, which would then be in place into 2024. It has less detailed requirements and the removal of some key protections. That includes no exclusion pay for workers, despite the continuing requirement on employers to exclude those who are symptomatic or positive for COVID. Most workers have little to no sick time and cannot afford to lose their income. Reporting of symptoms and of close contacts will be severely reduced when workers understand they or their coworkers will be put out of work unpaid for 10 days as a result.
Worksafe has a petition demanding that exclusion pay remain in the rules. Please sign the petition, and stay tuned.
This Workers Memorial Day, 2021, Worksafe would like to amplify the dedicated work of eight extraordinary organizations that have been rising through challenges to ensure that the communities that they served are supported and uplifted through the pandemic.
By Jora Trang
This Workers Memorial Day, 2021, Worksafe would like to amplify the dedicated work of eight extraordinary organizations that have been rising through challenges to ensure that the communities that they served are supported and uplifted through the pandemic.
From providing food and personal protective equipment to vulnerable populations to fighting for the passage of protective laws, these organizations have been pounding the pavement, their passion clear as they roll up their sleeves to lean into the work of ensuring that their communities continue to thrive. We are extremely proud of these allies and partners. Visit them on their platforms to learn more about their work and to support them.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
Bay Rising builds the power of communities of color to create a just world for everyone. Through their civic engagement network of over thirty grassroots organizations in the Bay Area, they are building a world where all people have community control and political power, and where everyone has a home and can live without fear of deportation or criminalization. They are creating a world where everyone can earn a living wage, receive quality healthcare and education, and live in neighborhoods with clean air, public parks, and water. They believe in environmental justice and just transition to a regenerative, life-giving economy.
Bay Rising knows that communities get through crises like COVID-19 when they pull together with community power and political power. Towards this end, Bay Rising created a searchable Covid Resource Guide to make it easy to find and get help as we protect, recover, and heal our communities. This amazing guide is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese, spanning across the whole Bay Area, with 11 categories including the recently added vaccine resource category.
Conceived in 2014, the Black Cultural Zone addresses the disparate impact that decades of disinvestment in East Oakland and more recent displacement of Black People and Black Businesses from their legacy communities here in Oakland by centering Black Arts and Culture within a community development framework.https://medium.com/media/8ad9a4da8f588d2123d29c07963d9415/href
The East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative was formed by the Eastside Arts Alliance and several non-profit organizations located in East Oakland to develop the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone. The Collaborative designated the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone as the 50 square blocks from High Street to the San Leandro Border and focused on implementing arts and cultural strategies and engaging artists and community members in art activism.
To address the disparity caused by the pandemic, the Black Cultural Zone launched a Neighborhood Messenger Program that connects residents on over 100 Blocks throughout Oakland. Messengers are trusted voices on their block that are supplied with information and resources on topics ranging from COVID 19 Workers Rights and Emergency Housing to Personal Protective Equipment and Non-Perishable foods. Outreach at the community level with neighbors helping neighbors is an effective method to address chronic and acute social, health and quality of life challenges faced in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Messengers receive a $500 monthly stipend for building healthy relationships in their community.
The California Domestic Workers Coalition (CDWC), founded in 2006, has been a steady force in fighting for stronger protections and recognition for the more than 300,000 domestic workers in California.. In California, more than 2 million private households rely on the labor and services of domestic workers, such as house-cleaners, nannies, and in-home attendants to seniors and people with disabilities. This workforce is made up primarily of immigrant women of color, and many are the primary breadwinners for their families.
CDWC is a domestic worker led, statewide alliance of community-based organizations, domestic employers, worker centers, labor unions, faith groups, students, and policy advocates. Together, they advance a movement for the rights and dignity of immigrant women workers by building power through legislative advocacy, grassroots organizing, and leadership development. They are working hard to confront a history of exclusion to basic labor protections and to advance the rights and dignity of domestic workers and their communities across the state.
For the past year, and now moving into 2021, CDWC is advancing a protective bill, The Health and Safety for All Workers Act, that removes the historical exclusion of domestic workers, so that domestic workers can have the legal right to health and safety training and protective equipment, and be protected against retaliation when they try to protect their own health and safety at work.
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent devastating wildfires in California has exacerbated the dangers that domestic workers and day laborers face on a daily basis because they are excluded from CAL/OSHA protections and regulations.
Right now domestic workers are right at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. They work with people most vulnerable to the illness, like the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, often without adequate protective equipment or training. And they themselves don’t have a safety net to lean on in times of crisis, like affordable health care, unemployment benefits, and paid sick days.
During the wildfires that devastated California, we saw a similar phenomenon. Domestic workers and other household workers, like day laborers, were asked to stay behind to fight fires, guard homes or pets, work in smoky conditions, and clean up toxic ash, all without protective equipment. Workers were further put at risk when employers failed to warn them that the homes they work in were under mandatory evacuation.
Domestic workers often have to make the impossible choice between working in unsafe conditions or going without any income, especially during these kinds of crises. But domestic workers face risks every day- the risk of injury, exposure to infectious disease and household cleaning chemicals, and the very real threat of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by employers or clients, because of their often isolated and informal work environment. SB 321 goes a long way to protect domestic workers.
Founded in 2005, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative is a statewide grassroots organization that addresses health, environmental, reproductive justice, and other social issues faced by its low-income, female, Vietnamese immigrant and refugee workforce.
Using a multi-tiered approach that blends community organizing, grassroots policy advocacy, and community-based research, the Collaborative builds power of the nail salon community to develop solutions that benefit the nail salon workforce, their families, small immigrant and refugee owned businesses, and their communities.
Throughout the pandemic, the Collaborative has been extremely active in engaging the nail salon industry and workers to ensure their safety and health and to support them in reopening safely. They have provided information in English and Vietnamese to salon workers and they have spent countless hours directly meeting with, training, and encouraging salon workers as they struggle to understand technological and language barriers, the various phases of the pandemic.
Their social media presence has increased exponentially as they have held facebook live engagements and trainings and posted information to the community on COVID-19 such as Myths and Facts, the vaccinations’ effect on various populations such as pregnant women, and double masking to increase protections.https://medium.com/media/78ecadff8bddfc02b216bfd066c14659/href
PAWIS was formed in 2002 to fight against social and economic injustice faced by Filipino workers and Im/migrants in Santa Clara County. PAWIS supports Filipinos in Santa Clara County, the bay area, in the U.S and around the world on workplace rights issues. They are Filipino workers and im/migrants who have come together because they realized the need to support and strengthen their community against abuse and exploitation. They provide support to Filipino workers in industries such as health care, retail/sales, and electronic manufacturing.
During the pandemic, they have uplifted issues facing Filipino caregivers and frontline workers including hosting the online webinar, “Conversations on the Issues and Concerns of Caregivers.” The webinar provided critical information about the struggles faced by caregivers in the United States and detailing the lack of protective regulations in the caregiving industry. Stories about the pandemic’s effects on the dangerous working conditions of caregivers were shared and participants discussed how feudal culture from the Philippines contributes to the present day exploitation of caregivers.
They have also been amplifying and urging solidarity to address the rise in anti-Asian sentiment that has affected their members. In their issued statement, they said, “Most of our members are essential workers who continue going to work despite and inspite, of COVID 19…However, the anti-Asian sentiment that has long plagued this nation and has escalated to violence and attacks against Asians in these past weeks sowed added fears and worries to our community that has been through so much already in the past year. Filipinos and our Asian brothers and sisters are subjected to horrific physical attacks, racial slurs and other forms of harassment…We urge our community to stand strong and in solidarity with our Asian sisters and brothers. We denounce the type of scapegoating that we Asians and Asian Americans have been subjected to in the wake of the pandemic. We deserve to live, breathe and work in this country. We must continue to advocate and fight for our rights and welfare because every person in this world deserves to live their lives with safety, dignity and respect.”
More recently, they have joined Step Forward in providing critical PPE and workers rights information to workers in Santa Clara County.https://medium.com/media/a2cd4d80422badd89ae76a4f8425e31f/href
Street Level Health Project (SLHP) is an Oakland-based community center dedicated to improving the wellbeing of underinsured, uninsured, and recently arrived immigrants in Alameda County. SLHP promotes self-sufficiency for marginalized people of color by creating equitable and dignified access to health and employment regardless of socioeconomic or immigration status. SLHP engages the community in constructing collective power and leadership in order to advance a more just, inclusive, and empathetic society. They provide safety net services for immigrant communities to ensure equitable health access for the uninsured. They tackle institutional and systemic barriers to create an inclusive society that honors the historical contributions of immigrant communities.They address income security to empower low-income contingent workers and reduce health disparities associated with unemployment and underemployment.
During the pandemic, SLHP has been instrumental in engaging hard to reach populations. Every week SLHP has been committed to hit the streets whether it was at day laborer stops, during their food distribution, or literally just walking the streets of Fruitvale and East Oakland to reach the Latino and Maya Mam community. Their COVID outreach team provides resources, food, PPE, and critical COVID and vaccination updates. They have provided 1:1 assistance to day laborers and their families at the different vaccine sites in the Fruitvale area to address linguistic, literacy, and technological barriers. SLHP is very proud of their team for all their hard work in making sure the communities they serve have what they need to make informed decisions.https://medium.com/media/763515145a96db575ff72a9c0cea3a2f/href
Temp Worker Justice is a nonprofit that supports temporary workers and workers’ organizations seeking justice and fairness in the workplace. They are led by temp workers, advocates, organizers, researchers, and labor educators. Temp Worker Justice is led by Dave DeSario, one of the Founding Members, who has been a temporary worker many times over. His experiences led him to become an advocate for others. While working as a temp in 2009 he created the leading website for information on temp staffing issues, connecting with hundreds of temps across the country to provide resources and referrals. The goal of Temp Worker Justice (TWJ) is to reverse the trend of temping-out America’s workplaces, to help empower temp workers and their organizations so they may obtain the full pay and benefits, safe working conditions, and complete respect that “temp” workers deserve and are entitled to.
Temp and contingency workers found their jobs most at risk during the pandemic with many being the first to lose jobs. With the critical work advocacy of Mike Foley, lead researcher at Washington State’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program, Temp Worker Justice has made Washington State the third state in the nation to pass protective laws for temporary workers with far reaching implications.https://medium.com/media/4d853e41447f0a2b26ac622f25693a7f/href
The new law, SHB 1206, which takes effect July 25, 2021, was enacted after a request by Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries and provides an important barrier to temporary worker schemes which provide cost cutting incentives for companies to use temporary agencies.
Laws such as this go a long way to ensuring a baseline of protections for workers when they are faced with emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about this bill at Counterpunch and in our article: “Washington State Has a New Temp Worker Law — How Do California Laws Compare?”
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United (TUWU) was formed in 2002 as Young Workers United, and is a multi-racial and bilingual membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for workers in San Francisco. They raise standards in the low-wage service sectors in San Francisco through worker organizing, know your rights outreach, leadership development, and base-building.
They believe in the power of organizing whole people at the intersection of their identities, political leanings, and geographies. With their members leading, they are building a world where low-wage service workers have dignity and respect at their jobs and where they shape the political priorities that most deeply impact Latine working class communities.
TUWU engaged in a vital Essential Workers Survey over the summer of 2020 where they surveyed 295 immigrant workers who work or live in San Francisco to assess current conditions and working experiences for the working class Latinx community in San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic and through the reopening of businesses. The majority of whom were restaurant and domestic workers.
The report concludes: “low-wage workers were being overworked and treated as if they were disposable. A restaurant worker stated, ‘My family and I tested positive for COVID-19 in early August. We have been quarantining because the entire family tested positive. I had a job lined up and had started working for two days, but then I lost the job after being in quarantine for two weeks.’ Workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and the needs of employees should be priori-tized over the needs of businesses. Employers should not take advantage of their employees, especially as we are amid a pandemic and low-wage workers are in a vulnerable position. It is not enough to pass labor laws to ensure workers’ rights are protected. These laws also need to be enforced to put an end to the exploitation of low-wage immigrant workers.”
Washington State Has a New Temp Worker Law — How Do California Laws Compare?
by Jora Trang, Chief of Staff & Equity
Washington state just became the third state in the nation to pass protective laws for temporary workers with their new Protecting Temporary Workers Law. This law seeks to place a barrier to temporary worker schemes which provide cost cutting incentives for companies to use temporary agencies. Studies have long shown that temp workers in higher-hazard industries are two times as likely to be injured as their directly hired counterparts.
These schemes are well known for the profits they reap for employers at the expense of workers. Two policy briefs by researchers from the University of California Riverside’s Labor Studies programand the School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development found that warehousing jobs in the region are often filled through temporary staffing agencies that pay workers low wages while offering them no health insurance. At the time of the reports, workers in the Ontario region earned a dismal average of $10.05 per hour. To date, the minimum wage in Ontario is $14.00, trailing a dollar behind the state minimum wage.
How does California compare with Washington state’s new law? To answer this question, we need to look at the current state of laws about temporary workers in California first. California passed our own historic law on September 28, 2014, when then Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1897 into law. This law made California a leader in having some of the country’s farthest-reaching protections for temporary workers. That law came in the wake of growing awareness about the status of temp workers as the fastest growing and most vulnerable segment of the workforce.
It was also buttressed by ProPublica’s damning series which highlighted rampant wage theft and unsafe working conditions in worksites that employ temp workers. AB 1897 addressed a loophole in which complaining workers found their issues ping-ponged between the temp agency that hired them and the companies that contracted with the temp agencies. AB 1897 was designed to protect “perma-temps,” which include low-wage hotel housekeepers, factory workers, farm laborers, janitors, and warehouse workers who too often find themselves toiling for years at the same company but not benefiting from the status of full-time direct hire employees of the company that “out-sourced” their labor through the temp agency.
Most horrifying was ProPublica’s revelation of cases of untrained temp workers who have been seriously injured or killed in the workplace. In fact, in California, temp workers are 50% more likely to get injured on the job than their company-employed counterparts.
Labor Code section 2810.3 includes three main requirements:
- When a labor contractor provides temporary workers to a host employer, the latter must share all civil liability and legal responsibility with the former for the payment of wages as well as any failure to provide workers’ compensation coverage (required by Section 3700).
- A client company or employer cannot pass off any legal responsibilities or liabilities under the California/OSHA provisions to a labor contractor concerning the workers provided by the labour contractor.
- As and when a state enforcement agency demands relevant information to ensure compliance with applicable state laws, an employer or a labor contractor is bound to provide it to the concerned agency or department.
What this means in a nutshell is that when a temp worker gets injured on the job in California:
- Either of the two employers assumes the responsibility of covering the worker under workers’ compensation insurance. Who finally assumes the responsibility depends on the type of contract between them, but neither can deny responsibility or pass the buck to the other,
- Both employers have to take necessary steps to safeguard the worker from workplace injuries and illnesses, and
- Both employers need to have an injury and illness prevention plan that covers hazards encountered by the temp worker.
In comparison, the new Washington law has legislative language novel to California which definitively ends the ping pong game between temp agencies and worksite employers by making them both responsible for hazard analysis, training, documentation, and communication between temp agencies and worksite employers. The law, which focuses on the construction and manufacturing industries, prioritizes worker knowledge about the hazards of their job.
Provisions include the following language which requires that staffing agencies be proactive about worker health and safety. Specifically, “before the assignment of an employee to a worksite employer,” staffing agencies must:
- Inquire about the worksite employer’s safety and health practices and hazards at the actual workplace to assess the safety conditions, workers tasks, and the worksite employer’s safety program,
- Provide general awareness safety training to the employee for for recognized industry hazards the employee may encounter at the worksite,
- Provide, as a part of materials given to the employee, the department’s hotline number for reporting safety hazards and concerns, and
- Document and inform the staffing agency about anticipated job hazards likely encountered by the staffing agency employee.
Other provisions include providing tailored training about the particular hazards the employee will encounter and informing the staffing agency of any changes in job tasks, work locations, or new hazards.
The new law, SHB 1206, which takes effect July 25, 2021, was enacted after a request by Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). It is a stunning example of worker protective language and is an example of diligent and passionate work by Mike Foley, lead researcher at L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program and Dave DeSario and the team at Temp Worker Justice. Foley has been doing groundbreaking research on temp worker injuries for about 2 decades. The legislation was supported by NELP and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
It joins California’s Labor contracting: client liability, the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act, and the Massachusetts Temporary Workers Right to Know Law in the effort to protect temporary staffing agency workers. Come on California!
“Outside of Washington state, this law provides a blueprint for advancing temp worker safety. The provisions are based on detailed research and interviews with hundreds of temp injured workers, and directly addresses areas of greatest concern. It will prevent hundreds of injuries AND drive out low-road temp agencies undercutting safe jobs,” says Dave DeSario of Temp Worker Justice.
California! We gotta catch up!
Worksafe joins with those who are relieved that the American court system did not yet again deliver a travesty of justice. We hope that the verdict can provide Mr. Floyd’s family with some small measure of compensation for their enormous loss. We join the country in mourning and honoring Mr. Floyd’s life.
Washington state just became the third state in the nation to pass protective laws for temporary workers with their new Protecting Temporary Workers Law. This law seeks to place a barrier to temporary worker schemes which provide cost cutting incentives for companies to use temporary agencies.
More than a year into the pandemic, the sad fact remains that for most California workers, Cal/OSHA seems not to exist. Life and death issues are not limited to what many think of as "dangerous jobs" – they are now a daily reality in workplaces across our state.
Worksafe stands in solidarity to mourn the killing of eight Americans, six of them East Asian American women, on March 16th in Atlanta.
By Stephen Knight, Worksafe
Last week National COSH released the National Agenda for Worker Safety and Health. The report lays out a eight-point plan for national reform based on workers’ lived experience, recommending that we strengthen and enforce safety laws, make anti-retaliation protections real, ensure fair and just compensation, and confront the workplace effects of climate change.
“Workers are sick, broke and dying — because so far during this pandemic, employers, OSHA and our federal government have failed to protect workers from the risk of infectious disease,” said Jessica Martinez, National COSH’s Co-Executive Director.
Worksafe agrees that the new administration needs to reaffirm a commitment to occupational health and safety science, and it needs to send a clear message to employers and the general public that workplace health and safety is key to public health — and absolutely crucial for slowing the spread of COVID.
There are initial positive signs. On his first day in office, the new president signed an executive order (EO) prioritizing worker protection issues. And barely a week later, on January 29, the Department of Labor issued guidance “intended to inform employers and workers in most workplace settings outside of healthcare to help them identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 at work and to help them determine appropriate control measures.”
The president has appointed longtime worker advocates: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Deputy Secretary Julie Su (who will soon leave her role heading California’s labor agency). Occupational safety leaders like David Michaels and Doug Parker are advising the administration. President Biden’s January 21 EO ordered the Department of Labor to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021.”
In California of course we have our own “state plan” governing workplace health and safety requirements, aka Cal/OSHA. But there’s still a role for federal involvement, including greater support in terms of resources as well as advocacy in the form of oversight and accountability. We are glad to endorse National COSH’s call in the Agenda to “bolster oversight of OSHA state plans, ensuring that these jurisdictions enact and effectively enforce measures that are at least as effective as […] OSHA requirements.”
The labor agency was intentionally sidelined by the Trump Administration in the middle of an unprecedented workplace safety crisis. It is crucial that President Biden upend this sorry record. The Department of Labor must incorporate the expertise of the occupational health and safety community, including impacted workers. We must make clear that after what our communities have learned and endured in the last few years — we cannot go back to 2016. We must move forward to a far stronger place of voice and power for workers and worker safety.
Worksafe is an advocacy organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the basic right of all California workers to a safe and healthy workplace.
By Stephen Knight and Mara Ortenburger, Worksafe
This November, California voters are being asked to support Proposition 22 — Uber and Lyft’s misleading ballot measure that would exempt them from labor laws that protect workers. Together with Postmates, Instacart, and Doordash, these wealthy corporations are spending nearly $200 million to pass Prop. 22, making it the most expensive ballot measure in state history. That level of unprecedented spending should alarm California voters and alert passengers that something is amiss.
California law and policy is clear that these workers are employees and entitled to the same protections and benefits as all California employees. Under the guise of supporting worker flexibility and freedom, these companies pocket billions by misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors. What the carshare companies expect to get from this massive investment is permanent legal protection for their refusal to provide drivers who work for them with the basic benefits due regular employees, like paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, or healthcare.
Al Aloudi, a ride-hail driver in San Francisco, was working behind the wheel in March and brought COVID back to his home.
“I was driving in the beginning of March, [and] my dad began showing symptoms of COVID by March 15th. He turned blue and couldn’t breathe, so we called an ambulance to the house and he tested positive,” Aloudi reported. Quarantined and unable to work, Aloudi applied for Uber and Lyft pandemic relief programs. He sent the companies a doctor’s note requiring that he quarantine, but both companies denied him paid sick time and temporarily deactivated him.
Written by lawyers for Uber and Lyft, Proposition 22 aims to enact a special category of labor for gig drivers that reduces the companies’ responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of both drivers and passengers. While protecting their own liability, the companies hope to reassign liability to the immigrants and workers of color who make up a substantial proportion of their low-wage employees.
The pandemic has worsened the already unstable, unpredictable working conditions of ride-hail drivers. A recent survey conducted by Rideshare Drivers United shows that only 29% of drivers are still driving despite pandemic conditions. Because drivers know the risks, a vast majority surveyed (92%) say Uber and Lyft should be providing safety supplies. With drivers’ significant out-of-pocket costs, only 7% have provided barriers between the front and back seats, despite CDC recommendations. Only 62% sanitize between passengers, because that time is unpaid, and drivers say they simply cannot afford to take the time off the road.
What these statistics show is that safety is closely linked to labor conditions.
In addition, Prop. 22 will exempt these employers from providing personal protective equipment, ensuring access to sanitary facilities, or assessing the risk of workplace violence, including sexual and physical harassment. And without paid time off or paid sick days, drivers will have little choice but to work while sick and or injured — exposing riders to illness and increased chance of accidents.
One driver from Los Angeles who is still driving is Ben Valdez.
“I bought and made my own partition to separate me from my passengers. Even during this time I still have people reaching over to pat me on the back or poke me. I am afraid of going to the back of my car and handling my passengers’ bags,” said Valdez. “I spend at least $50 a week on cleaning supplies and I’m not paid for the time it takes to clean my car. If Uber and Lyft obeyed the law and treated me as an employee, I would have access to unemployment and wouldn’t have to choose to earn money at an extremely high risk, or stay at home and risk not paying my bills.”
While protecting their own liability, the companies hope to reassign liability to the immigrants and workers of color who make up a substantial proportion of their low-wage employees.
The contempt that these gig economy giants have for the public is exemplified by the measure’s unprecedented requirement of a seven-eighths’ majority of the legislature to amend the rules drafted by Uber and Lyft. These companies are trying to deceive voters into passing their special rules, and then bar our representatives from ever touching that law again.
Meanwhile, drivers who don’t earn enough money and are denied basic protections work harder and longer hours, and are forced to take more risks to secure more rides. As businesses and schools reopen, more and more drivers will get back on the road — and without proper cleaning and protections supplied by the employer, riders will pay the price as well.
This is a historic battle under way in California to reset the balance between employers and employees by ending Uber and Lyft’s cynical manipulation of labor law. California voters should reject the premise that, given enough power and money, companies can simply deregulate themselves.
Worksafe is an advocacy organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the basic right of all California workers to a safe and healthy workplace.
This November, California voters are being asked to support Proposition 22 — Uber and Lyft’s misleading ballot measure that would exempt them from labor laws that protect workers. We must reject the premise that, given enough power and money, companies can simply deregulate themselves.
By Nicole Marquez-Baker, Worksafe
The way workplace hazards impact workers, particularly workers of color, is nothing new. When I started with Worksafe in 2012, we were helping Warehouse Worker Resource Center (at the time Warehouse Workers United) file a Cal/OSHA complaint. Domingo Blancas, a Latino immigrant, had fallen ill while working in an extremely hot warehouse in Ontario, California. Like many temporary warehouse workers, Domingo had never been trained on heat illness symptoms or emergency procedures. In fact, his employer disregarded his pleas for help.
Domingo’s life is precious and unique; there is only one of him. Sadly, his employer’s callous attitude is not unique at all. During my time at Worksafe, I have seen that tolerance for workplace harm has always been oppressive — rooted in racism and classism. It’s a system that normalizes treating black and brown workers as disposable, forgettable, and replaceable.
Domingo survived heat stroke after being hospitalized for three days. His experience with indoor heat hazards — along with many other workers of color, immigrant workers, and low-paid workers — influenced a change in the law in 2016. SB 1167 (Mendoza) required Cal/OSHA to create a standard with specific employer requirements for indoor heat protections by 2019. It’s now ten months into 2020, and that standard has yet to be finalized. To me, this serves as a reminder that advocacy does not end when a change is made on paper. We have to keep fighting until change is executed and enforced.
Now, as I leave Worksafe, COVID-19 is highlighting just how dangerous work has always been for black and brown workers like Domingo. Some of these workers are still carved out of Cal/OSHA protections. This reality has catapulted us into reimagining our relationship with work. And workers are leading important changes — whether through legislative advocacy to gain Cal/OSHA coverage for domestic workers and day laborers or by pushing for stronger workplace protections from hazards like COVID-19.
As I reflect on my time with Worksafe, I’m grateful for our successful advocacy on behalf of folks like Domingo. As a woman of color, I take great pride in being able to serve as conduit for my community. I’m filled with a great sense of appreciation for this work and a great sense of responsibility to keep moving the dial towards justice. Together, we can change this paradigm.
Justice is not self-executing, justice takes work! Adelante!
The way workplace hazards impact workers, particularly workers of color, is nothing new. When I started with Worksafe in 2012, we were helping Warehouse Worker Resource Center (at the time Warehouse Workers United) file a Cal/OSHA complaint...
Worksafe stands with the Movement for Black Lives and all those who are rising up to protest state violence against Black people and communities.