Assembly Labor Chair Ash Kalra Holds Hearing with Cal/OSHA Chief, Statewide Stakeholders on Safeguarding Frontline Workers

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Leading up to the pandemic, about 5.7 million Californians typically worked in frontline industries, representing about 30 percent of all workers

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), chair of the Committee on Labor and Employment, today held an informational hearing with state agencies and frontline workers to discuss the need for robust workplace health and safety protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The data is clear: millions of Californians are facing alarmingly unsafe working conditions during this pandemic.” said Assemblymember Kalra. “The safety of California’s workers, especially those on the frontlines, must be our top priority.  While the state has issued industry guidance, conducted targeted on-site inspections, and provided employer training, it is not enough. We must approach our health and safety policy through a lens of empowering workers. Our workers must know their rights and how to assert them if their workplace is unsafe due to COVID-19. They should be able to file a complaint without fear of retaliation. Workers can provide valuable input in collaboration with state agencies and interested employers to create more vigorous COVID-related health and safety protocols and protections.” 

The informational hearing asserted the need for stronger workplace health and safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic and highlighted frontline worker perspectives from the hospitality, warehousing, food service, and agriculture industries.

“Fast-food workers are part of the essential workforce that continues to risk our health and the health of our families in order to keep our communities fed and local economies moving amid the pandemic,” said Pablo Navarez, a Fremont fast-food worker and leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union. “But, billion dollar fast-food companies like McDonald's have treated their profits as more essential than the health of workers and the public. Eight months into the pandemic, fast-food workers are still denied paid sick days and face outbreaks of the virus on the job. Stronger health and safety protections at work are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19, but they will only be effective if workers help shape them and have the power to enforce them."

According to a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, frontline workers regularly interact with the public or work in close proximity with their colleagues. As a result of COVID-19, these workers now may face heightened risks while performing their work and have had to take extra precautions in light of these heightened risks.[1]

“While Farmer John has put into place some measures to help protect me and my fellow workers from COVID-19 infections, Cal/OSHA recently found that Farmer John is not meeting state standards and much more needs to be done to keep us safe,” said Jose Guzman, a food processing employee at the Farmer John plant in Southern California, in a statement translated from Spanish. “I was infected at my workplace and was so scared of passing the disease on to my family. Workers I stand next to have come into work while they’re sick because they’re afraid to lose their jobs if they come forward and speak up. I’m grateful our elected leaders are taking the time to hear from meat-packing workers about how they can keep us safe while our state continues to fight this pandemic.”

Since August, Cal/OSHA has issued $1 million in COVID-19 related citations based on nearly 8,000 complaints. Most violations have been issued to employers for not ensuring that workers maintain physical distancing or not properly reporting COVID-19 illnesses in the workplace.

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[1] Workplace Safety and Health During COVID-19 (Brief). (2020, November 17). Retrieved https://albr.assembly.ca.gov/sites/albr.assembly.ca.gov/files/LAO%20Brief%2011-17-20.pdf