Sacramento, CA – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council and Worksafe celebrated the California State Senate Judiciary 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 and strengthen worker protections to encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions and prevent employer retaliation.
“California’s workers are the reason our state has persevered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s recovery is counting on them,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “I’m proud to author SB 606 to ensure that the workers who are the backbone of our economy have safe working conditions now and in the future through stronger enforcement from Cal/OSHA and protections against retaliation. Workers in meat packing plants and grocery stores in my district have suffered high rates of sickness and death just from putting food on the table. The least we can do for our frontline heroes is commit to safe workplaces which are both critical to the health of essential workers and our state’s recovery.”
California’s essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic have faced widespread COVID-19-related violations, including the failure to provide personal protective equipment or enforcement or adequate social distancing guidelines to keep workers and the public safe. While Cal/OSHA has attempted to respond to this unprecedented worker safety crisis brought on by the pandemic, resources have been insufficient to effectively protect workers from being infected by COVID-19 on the job. SB 606 would codify federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) policy for egregious employers into California law, giving Cal/OSHA the authority to impose additional penalties based on the number of instances, like the number of exposed employees, for willful violations where workers have been knowingly harmed by an employer’s failure to comply with health and safety laws.
“All California workers deserve real protections from COVID-19 and other workplace hazards, but the current fines are too low to be an effective deterrent for major corporations that routinely put profits over people,” said Stephen Knight, Executive Director, Worksafe. “These commonsense reforms will strengthen Cal/OSHA’s ability to hold employers accountable for flagrant violations of worker health and safety laws.”
Throughout the pandemic, the meat packing industry has consistently been listed at the top of most hazardous worksites in the nation. At least 239 meatpacking workers have died and 45,000 have contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Last December, Fresno County’s biggest known COVID-19 workplace outbreak caused at least five people to die in connection to the virus and hospitalized at least 22 people due to COVID-19 related complications. Cal/OSHA has been long under-resourced, limited in assessing meaningful fines, and actively undermined by employers, as was evident in a Fresno Bee investigation which revealed that local “health officials tipped off company executives about a Cal/OSHA inspection, coordinated media talking points during the crisis, withheld information from the public and issued no COVID-related corrective actions.”
“Enforcement is essential to ensure worker safety,” said Amber Baur, executive director, UFCW Western States Council. “However, with only one Cal/OSHA inspector employed for every 103,000 workers, and a massive uptick in cases to investigate, Cal/OSHA lacks the resources to keep all California workers safe. SB 606 will help protect workers and the communities where they live by giving Cal/OSHA the resources they need to do the enforcement work that is essential to keep workers safe on the job and a fine structure that encourages employers to comply. UFCW is proud to support this critical legislation that will help California do all that it can to protect California’s workers every day they go to work.”
SB 606 will also help Cal/OSHA investigate and prove violations by making it easier for workers to prove retaliation. A rebuttable presumption of retaliation will apply where a worker reported unsafe conditions and was subjected to adverse action within 90 days. Unless workers can be protected from retaliation from their employers, they will be unlikely to come forward and report violations, increasing the risk at every worksite.
A recent 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. 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.
In addition to UFCW Western States Council and Worksafe, SB 606 is co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation.
# # #
Senator Gonzalez represents the 33rd Senate District, which includes the City of Long Beach and portions of South Los Angeles and South East Los Angeles including the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lakewood, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, Signal Hill, and South Gate. Senator Gonzalez lives in Long Beach with her husband Adam and three sons.
Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards and empowering us all to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For more information, visit www.worksafe.org.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The Council is a part of the 1.2 million-member strong UFCW International Union. UFCW members are standing together to improve the lives of workers, families, and communities.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 2021
Contact: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]