As COVID-19 cases continue to spike, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion empowering workers to safeguard their workplaces.
Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the motion authorizes worker-led public health councils, third-party workers, and community-based organizations to assist public health officials in implementing safety measures.
“The unsung heroes of our essential workforce are keeping our economy afloat during this unrelenting crisis,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We must build on the Department of Public Health (DPH)’s enforcement resources by enabling workers to monitor, document and report potential public health violations, especially those tied to the potential spread of COVID-19, in a timely and nimble manner.”
“When public health guidelines are not rigorously implemented by businesses, it not only puts workers and customers at risk, it puts their families and communities at risk,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “That’s why we must aggressively monitor compliance in workplaces and empower workers and community organizations to help. Plain and simple: full compliance can mean the difference between life and death.”
By partnering with workers to determine which protocols are being followed and identifying hindrances, DPH is expanding its capacity to ensure adherence to COVID-19 public health protocols. This collaborative approach will support tailoring precautions for each workplace. Although comprehensive guidelines have been provided, there is a vast range of workplace activity across the County that may require very distinctive measures.
This motion is intended to help address concerns raised by essential workers, many of whom belong to communities of color and bear the brunt of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The County recently approved developing an anti-racist policy agenda and ensuring their safety is an integral part of the effort to achieve racial equity.
Recently, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joined essential workers from across LA County for a Facebook Live hearing and heard directly from them about the challenges they face. SEIU United Service Workers West President David Huerta said, “They are doing their jobs to support the economy from crashing and to keep us safe and healthy while they and their families are taking on the increased risk of exposure to the virus.”
Describing the multilayered crises affecting essential workers, Los Angeles Black Worker Center Co-Executive Director Janel Bailey said, “We’re seeing a lot of the same dynamics of inequality that have left black workers behind and left other people of color behind—and we have to name systemic racism as the true virus that is impacting communities right now.”
Though the pervasive threat of the virus has prevented a widespread reopening of in-person work, this motion may help speed up economic recovery.
Workplaces, particularly restaurants and bars, have been identified as some of the highest risk virus transmission sites. Empowering workers to monitor and report violations of public health protocols will help curb the spread of the virus in workplaces, and ultimately in communities. When broader reopening occurs, this collaboration will bolster the implementation of the best public health practices that will keep businesses from having to close their doors again.
“We thank the L.A. Board of Supervisors for supporting public health and approving this motion,” said Rob Nothoff, Policy Director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “The workplace is foundational when it comes to public health, and workers are in a unique position to be the champions when it comes to stemming the coronavirus. We need all violations to be reported as soon as possible, and we need a framework to expedite this process. Who better to monitor and document public health violations than the workers themselves? When workers are engaged, the public is safer.”