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Featured Updates From Worksafe



California Wildfires Illuminate Labor, Immigration, & Public Health Issues

Posted on Oct 26, 2017
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Wildfire w CreditEarlier this month, unprecedented wildfires broke out across Northern California killing more than 40 people, destroying approximately 5700 structures, and forcing thousands of families to evacuate. Here are some of the conversations we've been following in the wake of the wildfires:

Disaster response workers are especially prone to health and safety hazards: Firefighters fight fatigue as well as fire, pulling extended shifts without sufficient breaks. Firefighters in California normally work 24 hour shifts, and then have 24 hours off. But those working to contain these wildfires have had no real rest for days. Some have worked as much as 80 hours straight.1  On October 11, 2017, Cal Fire’s deputy incident commander in Napa said of the firefighters, “There’s no doubt there’s extreme fatigue.”2 At least one worker, a contracted water-tender driver named Garrett Paiz, has been killed. 

The supply of firefighting, rescue, and cleanup workers is bolstered with incarcerated labor, temporary workers, and day laborers. Last week in Sonoma Valley, there were 464 firefighters including about 60 state prison inmates.1 There are persistent questions about the safety and ethics of using incarcerated labor to fight fires - workers are reportedly paid less than 2 dollars per hour.3

Anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric make immigrant communities more vulnerable during and after natural disastersAfter the wildfires started, “dozens of undocumented workers and their families” drove towards the Sonoma Coast because they were afraid of being deported and detained at emergency shelters. According to Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, some have slept on the beach.4 Local law enforcement has done their best to dispel the rumors that ICE is at evacuation shelters: Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said in a press conference that rumor is not true and urged residents to go to the shelters.5

But getting into shelters is not the only obstacle for undocumented immigrants affected by the fires. Federal funds for recovery cannot be used to serve undocumented people. Many of these people are farmworkers who additionally have had their livelihoods taken away, and/or continue to work in hazardous conditions.6

Our public health response must also address the unseen, toxic hazards: Smoke and ash from the wildfires contributed to extremely poor air quality throughout the Bay Area, and thousands of burnt homes, filled with toxic chemicals, will be a challenge to dispose of safely.

For a week during the fires the Bay Area as far south as Fremont had an air quality index of 160 and above.  At that level the EPA issues this health message: “People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.”7

In the areas where structures burned, toxic chemicals have become concentrated in debris and ash. Residents have been digging through what is left of their homes to see what can be saved but officials are forcefully warning them to stop. Public health officials and cleanup experts say that “the road ahead to cleanup and the safe return to properties will probably not be smooth or fast,” and a spokesman for FEMA said that “[t]here are more questions than answers.”8

The UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) has put together a resource list for workers cleaning up after wildfires. Find it here.


Major Victory for California Whistleblowers

Posted on Oct 6, 2017
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Brown-signedGovernor Brown has signed Senate Bill 306 into law – sealing a major victory for California workers and dealing a serious blow to unscrupulous employers.

SB 306 (Hertzberg) strengthens protections for whistleblowers fired or discriminated against for reporting dangerous working conditions or other labor code violations. It allows the Labor Commissioner or a private attorney to seek an injunction to protect a worker who has suffered retaliation for reporting violations or engaging in protected activity under state labor laws. This can include an order that the employer temporarily reinstate the affected worker while the claims are investigated.

SB 306 also expands the Labor Commissioner’s authority to investigate retaliation cases, allows her to cite employers for unlawful retaliation, and increases penalties for employers who willfully break the law. It improves working conditions across California by bringing illegal activity to light and discouraging retaliation before it happens.

Worksafe and our allies promoted the need for a law like this because we know that an injury to one is an injury to all. When one worker is fired for speaking up, other workers are more likely to suffer in silence. The employer holds all the cards in this situation, and it was time to change that.

We thank the California Labor Federation for championing this bill, and applaud Governor Brown and California lawmakers for recognizing that employer retaliation has a chilling effect on workers’ ability to assert their rights in the workplace. We hope that you will join us in spreading the word about this profound victory.


California Policy Action Alert

Posted on Sep 6, 2017
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Capitol domeAs the federal government dismantles the rights of workers, immigrants, and other marginalized communities, it is more important than ever for California to implement safeguards that protect our state’s most vulnerable populations.

We must counter bigoted and reactionary policy trends with our alternative vision of safety, health, and justice for all.

We are asking our partners and supporters to take action and stand in solidarity on a number of key pieces of legislation: SB 306 (Hertzberg), AB 450 (Chiu), SB 54 (De Leon), AB 1008 (McCarty), and SB 258 (Lara).

Click here to read more about these bills and find out how you can get involved!


Hot In Here: Workers Demand Strong Protections from Indoor Heat Hazards

Posted on Jun 28, 2017
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7Too many California workers toil for long hours in very hot indoor environments – sometimes without access to clean water or adequate ventilation, even in the peak of summer. These workers are vulnerable to heat-related illness: health conditions that can range from heat exhaustion to deadly heat stroke. Workers in restaurants, warehouses, garment factories, and industrial laundries are particularly prone, though indoor heat hazards pose a serious risk in many other industries across the state.

In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1167 – a bill directing Cal/OSHA to protect workers from indoor heat exposure by January 2019. Worksafe and our allies are working to encourage Cal/OSHA to adopt a strong, evidence-based standard that will protect all California workers.

Worksafe strongly believes that workers most impacted by heat hazards should have the biggest say in determining details of the new standard — after all, they know what it is like to work in high heat environments without adequate protections. Unfortunately (and predictably) powerful industry players are attempting to weaken the rulemaking process behind the scenes. They claim it is too complicated to protect all workers from dangerous indoor heat hazards.

We beg to differ. When workers share their personal stories of heat illness, we listen. We hope that Cal/OSHA listens too and implements a new indoor heat prevention standard that is strong, worker-centered, and inclusive of all industries.

Are you a worker looking for training on indoor heat hazards?

Want to join our efforts to ensure a strong indoor heat regulation? 

Contact our Senior Staff Attorney Nicole Marquez (nmarquez at worksafe dot org).

 

 For more information:


Legislative and Regulatory Updates: Spring 2017

Posted on Jun 8, 2017
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Gavel

Worksafe is currently prioritizing support for the following bills:

SB 306 (Retaliation Injunctive Relief - Hertzberg)

Sponsor: California Labor Federation

Status: Active bill pending referral in the Assembly

Summary: Would grant the Labor Commissioner authority to seek temporary injunctions against employers for Labor Code violations, such as retaliation for reporting a health or safety hazard. The bill would also give the Labor Commissioner authority to issue citations and penalties directly to enforce retaliation claims, rather than exclusively through the courts. Finally, the bill would authorize an employee who is bringing a civil action for a retaliation claim to seek injunctive relief from the court.

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