Topics: News, Press

Assembly Committee Agrees: Cal/OSHA Needs More Teeth

Risks to Workers Won't Go Away When California Reopens

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.”

Outbreaks include:

  • 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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June 22, 2021

Contact: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]