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Sacramento, CA – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Western States Council celebrated the Assembly Labor Committee’s approval of SB 606 (Gonzalez). SB 606 would give the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) the necessary tools to hold large employers accountable for workplace health and safety violations.
“With much uncertainty still swirling around California’s reopening, we do know one thing for sure – California must keep fighting to keep our workers safe on the job, and not just from COVID-19,” said Mark Ramos, president, UFCW Local 1428. “Many Californians go to work in places where unsafe conditions like unmaintained equipment or falling hazards are often compounded by employers who fail to communicate protections in place to their workers. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed both how essential and under-resourced Cal/OSHA is, and SB 606 is a critical step forward.”
A study by the University of California at San Francisco shows the unspeakable price essential workers have paid for the failure of companies to keep their workers safe at their worksite during the COVID-19 pandemic. Food and agricultural workers faced the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19, with a 39% increase in death rates during this pandemic, followed by transportation and logistic workers, facilities workers, and manufacturing workers. These jobs are typically held by lower-income workers of color who don’t have the choice of working from home and are often forced to work in close proximity to their co-workers.
A new exposé on COVID-19 workplace outbreak reporting underscores the urgency to empower Cal/OSHA with the resources needed to do the essential work of protecting workers. The Mercury News found that COVID-19 “struck both big-box and mom-and-pop grocery stores, commercial farms, distribution centers and warehouses, casinos, auto retailers, motels and fast food restaurants, along with government agencies like correctional facilities, Cal Fire stations, sheriff’s offices and county courts,” but “only a handful of these companies have been fined for COVID workplace safety violations.”
- 171 cases previously unreported at the Richmond HelloFresh
- 187 cases previously unreported at a newly-opened Amazon facility in Beaumont
- 50 cases previously unreported at an air conditioning company in Vacaville
- More than 1,700 cases at e-commerce giant Amazon warehouse, distribution and grocery facilities in Riverside, Solano, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Kern counties
“As California begins to open up and eases measures like mask mandates, it would be easy to slip back into the old ways of doing things; instead, we must commit to ‘build back better,’ said Joe Duffle, president, UFCW Local 1167. “The risk our workers face of being exposed to harm on the job isn’t going away. If SB 606 was the law last year, we could have helped prevent workers from getting sick on the job and fewer workers would have died. We’re glad the Assembly Labor Committee voted to support this bill.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2021
Contact: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]
Sacramento, CA – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council today released the following statement from Amber Baur, Executive Director, UFCW Western States Council, in response to the California Legislature’s agreed upon budget for 2021-2022:
“If California is going to roar back from this pandemic, it must continue to support the workers who carried us through the last year – those who kept food on our tables, risked exposure in checkout lines, cared for patients in pharmacies, and worked in meat processing plants where social distancing was virtually impossible. These are the workers who will continue to bear the greatest risks as our state reopens. While the 180,000 UFCW members in California are glad that the state Legislature’s agreed upon budget for 2021-2022 invests in working people, we believe there is much more work to be done as budget negotiations with the Governor’s office continue.
“Right now, California has the opportunity to use federal American Rescue Act funds to recognize the sacrifice our workers have made, to invest in their strength and bolster their future by providing them with hazard pay. Workers took care of us by going to work when everyone else was isolating at home, and now it’s time for us to take care of them. We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure California’s budget reflects the sacrifices our workers have made, and that it meets the needs of UFCW members and every working family across the state.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2021
Contact: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]
Daniel de la Cruz, a worker from Food 4 Less in Los Angeles, and member of UFCW Local 770, is one of the essential workers who put his health on the line each day going to work to provide for his family. “I’ve been assaulted, I’ve been coughed on, I’ve been yelled at and attacked personally by customers calling me derogatory names. This was hard to take mentally and emotionally. Getting hero’s pay makes me feel not only supported but respected. All we’re asking for is that essential workers like myself must not be ignored.”
Millions of Californians owe their lives and health to essential workers who put themselves and their families at great risk to keep the state running while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. As our state looks to build back better, we cannot forget the brave workers who stocked our grocery shelves, cleaned our hospitals, risked exposure in checkout lines, cared for dying patients in ICUs and nursing homes, and endured tight quarters in meat processing plants to help get California through the pandemic.
Essential workers risked their lives, and the lives of elderly parents and vulnerable children at home to ensure Californians remained healthy. Healthcare workers in particular spent months away from their families to keep them safe. They slept outside in tents to guarantee they wouldn’t take the virus home to their families. These dangerous and grueling working conditions have taken a toll. Since March of 2020, at least one in four healthcare workers have considered leaving their job, and 14% of those workers have considered leaving the profession altogether.
California is already facing a future with an insufficient workforce to meet our healthcare needs. COVID-19 has only increased our demand for qualified workers, outpacing the number of people entering the field. California needs approximately 500,000 new healthcare workers by 2024. Providing care for all who need it in the future is dependent on retaining our healthcare workforce. We now have an opportunity to improve the retention of the healthcare workforce and recognize the incredible efforts and sacrifices healthcare workers have made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by providing Hazard Pay to these frontline heroes.
It’s not just healthcare workers who have faced risk by going to work each day. Essential workers throughout the state have held the frontline in our grocery stores, fast food restaurants, as janitors and security officers, and in transportation have continued to do their jobs at great personal risk to themselves and their families.
“I have been an armed officer in charge of protecting the Los Angeles County Probation Department for 17 years and I am an essential worker. My job is very important to me and I love what I do. Even when it gets stressful, I go to work every day knowing I keep people safe. While some people were able to stay home when the pandemic hit, essential workers like myself were not. We continue to show up every day, even though we knew we were exposing ourselves and our families to get to getting sick. I asked that you support essential workers and recognize the risk that we take to make sure we keep California running.” -Tonie Wilson, a Security Officer in Los Angeles
Essential workers have worked throughout the pandemic with very little protection, all so millions of Californians can stay safely at home. Many of these essential workers are employed in low-paying professions, work closely next to their co-workers, and often receive insufficient benefits. The sacrifice they made is evidenced by a report by the University of California, Merced, which showed a 38% increase in deaths of California workers in high-risk industries last year. Workers in food-supply chain industries comprised four of the ten California industries with the highest increase in deaths.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, California’s essential workers have been there for all of us when we needed them most, putting themselves in harm’s way just by showing up to work. It’s time we recognize the enormous effort and sacrifice our essential workers have made and show them the respect and appreciation they deserve. California’s essential workers deserve Hazard Pay. And California has the opportunity to do just that. Governor Newsom and legislators must take American Rescue Act funds to recognize these workers’ sacrifice and invest in their strength. Hazard Pay would provide badly needed support and recognition to our frontline workers, helping to ensure that our state will have the experienced and healthy workforce it needs to build back better.
Investing in the people who carried us through the pandemic is the right thing to do.
If you’d like to join the conversation on Hazard Pay, please consider sharing your story on social media, and be sure to tag us, using the hashtag #HazardPayNOW.