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Assemblymembers join Disney cast member bill to protect frontline workers

Workplaces are now ground zero for COVID-19 transmission

OW Staff Writer | 8/13/2020, midnight

Last week, Assemblymembers Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and a cast member from Disneyland called for passage of legislation that will save lives and help re-open the economy safely by requiring employers to report COVID-19 infections in workplaces.

“California’s frontline workers are caught between the risks of a deadly pandemic and the realities that can’t wait many more months: Hungry kids at the table, rent coming due, and electric bills piling in the mailbox. These workers are predominately people of color,” said Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), author of AB 685. “To re-open California safely we must provide workers the accurate information they need to protect their families and give enforcement agencies the thorough data they need to keep workplaces safe and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in California.”

Under AB 685 (Reyes), employers would be required to provide a 24-hour notice to all employees at a worksite should any worker be exposed to COVID-19 and required to report a workplace COVID-19 positive test, diagnosis, order to quarantine or isolate, or death that could be COVID-19 related to Cal/OSHA and the California Department of Public Health.

California’s workplaces are ground zero for COVID-19 outbreaks. Last week, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “from farming communities to urban centers and suburbs, workers in retail, manufacturing, agriculture and logistics are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 outbreaks.” A Sunday Los Angeles Times story reported that some workplace outbreaks were reported to county officials only after workers had died and many others had become infected.

“Too many farmworkers live in fear: Fear of deportation, fear of incurring public charge, fear of losing their job, and now fear of contracting COVID-19,” said Rivas. “It is our responsibility to mitigate that fear of infection by increasing their safety in the workplace. We need to protect our essential farmworkers, and all workers, who have put their lives on the line for all of us during this pandemic. I’m proud to co-author AB 685 so our workers have access to timely, accurate information about risks in their workplace, and can take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families.”

As California looks to reopen, even more workers, especially Latinx, Black and API workers, are facing serious risk from the pandemic’s resurgence and a lack of accurate data on outbreaks.

“Over 140,000 Latinos in California have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 3,000 have died – numbers grossly disproportionate to the population and make up the majority of our state’s low-wage workers,” said Gonzalez. “From our hospitals and grocery stores, to meatpacking plants, restaurant kitchens and countless other businesses, workers remain on the job to maintain our supply chain and then bring home the infection to their loved ones and others in the community. Without a requirement to report COVID-19 exposures, no workplace in California is safe.”

“We hear daily that workers are getting sick in California’s grocery stores, meat packing plants and pharmacies, and that they’re afraid of bringing the virus home to their families after their shift,” said Andrea Zinder, president, UFCW Western States Council and UFCW Local 324. “Workers cannot be treated as disposable if we ever want to win this battle against COVID-19. AB 685 will help workers take appropriate steps to protect themselves, their families and the public while allowing Cal/OSHA to use limited inspection and enforcement funds more effectively, imperative when California is looking at years of budget deficits. UFCW is proud to stand besides these lawmakers to support our state’s essential workers.”

“Over and over, employers have failed to notify workers when COVID-19 exposure occurs,” said Mitch Steiger, legislative advocate, California Labor Federation. “Even when employers do give a warning, the notification is vague, inaccurate, or designed to threaten workers into tolerating unsafe work environments. As a result, case numbers are skyrocketing across a wide variety of industries and uncontrollable outbreaks threaten the lives of not just these workers, but their families and everyone they contact. AB 685 simply requires employers to report COVID-19 exposures, allowing workers to use this information to protect themselves and slow the spread of this terrible virus.”