Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Pushes COVID-19 Worker Protection Bill
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, joined other legislators Wednesday to call for the passage of legislation that would require employees to report COVID-19 infections in workplaces.
Gonzalez, along with Assemblymembers Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, and Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, asked their fellow legislators to pass Assembly Bill 685, under which employers would be required to provide a 24-hour notice to all employees at a worksite should any worker be exposed to COVID-19. They would also be 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.
A hearing on the bill was set for Wednesday in the Senate's Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee.
As California looks to reopen more businesses amid the pandemic, more workers, especially Latino, Black and Asian/Pacific Islander workers, are facing serious risk from a lack of accurate data on outbreaks, the bill's authors said.
"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," Gonzalez said. "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."
In San Diego County, Latinos make up 61% of all COVID-19 cases with known ethnicity, 60% of all hospitalizations and 45% of all deaths. Latinos make up about 34% of the region's population.
According to the San Diego Association of Governments, these higher rates point to Latinos being more likely to occupy high-contact professions such as essential or frontline workers who have continued to work during the pandemic and do not have the option of working remotely.
The Black and Pacific Islander communities are also testing positive for the illness at disproportionately higher rates than those of white or Asian populations.
"Over and over, employers have failed to notify workers when COVID-19 exposure occurs," said Mitch Steiger, legislative advocate for the 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."