By Nicole Marquez-Baker, Senior Staff Attorney
While workplace health and safety laws apply to everyone regardless of immigration status, gaining equitable access to these rights remains a constant struggle. Many workers – especially low-wage, immigrant workers and workers of color – face barriers to getting basic information about workplace conditions from their employer.
Consider this story: a group of immigrant workers at a warehouse, workers with no union representation, requested information from their employer about their workplace health and safety conditions. Instead of providing this basic information, the employer called the police and claimed the workers were trespassing. This triggered immigration consequences for the workers, especially those who were undocumented.
California has some of the most progressive health and safety laws in the nation, particularly our “right to know” laws. Our Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) standard requires employers to have a written plan that identifies hazards and establishes protocols to protect workers. Until recently, however, the standard did not explicitly state that workers and their advocates could actually access or obtain a copy of the plan.
Thankfully, this serious omission is now being addressed. On January 16th, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board voted to add the requirement that employers provide workers or their designated representative unobstructed access to, and a copy of, the IIPP. This change gives workers, worker advocates, worker centers, and unions the right to access crucial information contained within the IIPP. This enables workers and their representatives to organize more effectively to improve workplace health and safety.
The revised IIPP standard is an important tool. Unfortunately, access to such tools remains inequitable due to intersectional barriers and forms of retaliation. Advocates must continuously fight to ensure that the most vulnerable workers – like those in the above story – have access to this and other health and safety rights. As experts in their own workplace, workers can advance solutions that prevent injuries and save lives.