May 2020

California Must Do More to Protect Workers

Last week Worksafe and the National Lawyers Guild's Labor & Employment Committee filed a petition for two standards with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board. We strongly believe that California should adopt a temporary emergency standard to protect workers from infectious diseases like COVID-19. And a permanent standard that protects all workers from infectious diseases should follow.
Our goal with this petition is to secure real protections for all California workers as businesses reopen amidst the continued spread of COVID-19. We need to protect employees who may be exposed at work as well as the lives of their families and people in their communities. Without specific occupational health and safety measures to protect all of us who are returning to work, Californians will get sick and die unnecessarily.
While Cal/OSHA and the State of California have published guidance documents that outline employer requirements for protecting workers from coronavirus exposure (see below for details), guidance can only do so much. A standard would give Cal/OSHA a more powerful tool to enforce the rules and hold employers accountable.
Bottom line: Cal/OSHA urgently needs tools, staffing, and resources to engage in effective inspections and enforcement. We need a strong agency to ensure that all California workers can work safely and free from the hazards introduced or exacerbated by the pandemic. If employers are flouting regulations and endangering workers, or are unable to operate their business consistent with public health requirements, they must be confronted and penalized.
Worksafe is dedicated to this vision of a strong Cal/OSHA, one that is able to provide answers and protections for all of us rightly concerned about going to work during a pandemic. California’s workers need enforceable rules to keep employers accountable and keep workplaces safe.
In Solidarity,
Augustin, Joan, Jora, Karin, Maggie, Mara, Nicole, Stephen, and Thais
Understanding the State's COVID-19 Guidance

As of this week, 100k Americans have died from COVID-19 infection. Many "essential workers" have remained at work with concerns about their risk of exposure, lamenting unnecessary risks they may face due to lax planning or protections. Meanwhile, more Californians want to return to work — or they’re being asked to return, whether they want to or not. Clearly, now is the time to engage in dialogue about better workplace protections.

Cal/OSHA has several applicable regulations, and it has created guidance documents for eight industries. In addition, the State of California has created nearly two dozen industry-specific guidance documents on COVID-19 safety. 

These guides give employers and workers a foundation to start conversations about what is needed to make workplaces safer and prevent COVID-19 transmission. They include a checklist for each industry, and employers are instructed to post the completed checklist at the worksite to inform workers and customers.

The State guides include several sections. The first three sections are similar across all industries, and the remaining sections are tailored to each industry. They recommend that employers:

(1) Create a written, worksite-specific plan that includes: 
(A) an identified responsible person charged with implementing the plan; (B) a risk assessment including measures that will be taken to prevent spread; (C) training and communication with employees and their representatives; (D) a process to check for compliance and document and correct deficiencies; (E) a process to investigate cases, alert the local health department, and identify and isolate close workplace contacts of infected workers until they are tested; (F) updates to the plan to prevent further cases.
(2) Train employees on COVID-19, the plan and precautions in it, and instruction on any new or different work procedures, tools, chemicals, and Personal Protective Equipment they must use
(3) Put in place Individual Control Measures and Screening
(4) Put in place Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols
(5) Put in place Physical Distancing Guidelines
(6) Put in place any additional considerations (for some industries)

The quickest way to see improvements in your workplace is to engage in dialogue with an employer, persuade them to improve protections, and offer ideas on solutions. This is clearly easier in unionized workplaces, especially those with safety and health committees. As always, gathering good ideas from workers (the experts) about ways to keep everyone safe is crucial in any workplace.
California Workers & Advocates to Newsom: #ListenToWorkers
This month Worksafe joined more than 70 labor and community organizations throughout California to send an urgent message to Governor Gavin Newsom and top state officials: Listen to California Workers!

As more businesses and workers are transitioning to return to work, California needs to ensure that worker health and safety is prioritized, state agencies responsible for worker protection and enforcement are well-resourced, and workers’ rights are safe-guarded. 
The demand letter has four parts: 1) Create a Worker Protection Response Team of State Agencies and Worker Organization; 2) Worker Oversight of Workplace Conditions; 3) Strong Paid Sick Leave and Employee Benefits; and 4) On the Job Protective Measures.

These priorities are rooted in the experience of workers facing the threat of COVID-19 in workplaces that fail to promote their health, safety, and wellbeing. We invite you to read and share the letter and help us elevate these messages and graphics on social media. Contact us for other ways to get invovled!

Worksafe Partners with Skadden Fellow on Worker Rights

We are excited to share that Worksafe is partnering with Scott Hochberg, a Workers' Rights attorney in Oakland, on a project funded by a Flom Incubator Grant from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation for innovative legal responses to the COVID crisis. Scott will design and distribute materials for low-wage workers who need to negotiate with their employers regarding COVID health and safety guidelines in the workplace. The materials will be tailored for workers who may not have access to legal assistance and who need to employ strategies like collective negotiation and organizing in order to protect themselves.
Scott previously received a Skadden Fellowship to found the Workers' Rights Program at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, where he represented low-income clients in administrative proceedings, court, and workplace negotiations. He helped form the San Mateo County Wage Theft Coalition and co-led East Palo Alto's successful "tech tax" campaign in 2018. Scott has degrees from Brown University and Harvard Law School. Welcome, Scott!

In Memoriam

Although Workers Memorial Week has passed, the human toll of unsafe and unhealthy work sadly continues. For that reason, we will be regularly sharing stories of California workers who lost their lives on the job.

It has been almost a year since Noe Valle Cayetano fell 50 feet to his death while trimming a palm tree at a vacation-rental home in La Jolla. Noe was a dedicated family man who worked seven days a week and enjoyed his job. "He was the most kind, loving, caring and courageous man,” his daughter told reporters. “He loved his family, he loved his clients, and he loved everything he did.” Just 40 years old at the time of his death, Noe is survived by his wife, son, daughter, and mother. The dangers of tree trimming are frequently underestimated, and arborists continue to die each year in California. There were at least 14 workplace fatalities in 2018 involving tree work across the state.

Please read and share our report, Dying at Work in California, to learn more about the human toll of unsafe and unhealthy work in California.

Worksafe the only legal services organization in California focused on worker health and safety. Please consider supporting our work with a donation.

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