The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to create worker-run public health councils in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus in work environments.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment and I’m proud that L.A. County is launching this first-in-the-nation program,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who authored the motion.
“As COVID-19 caseloads rise again, it is imperative that every employer and employee do their utmost to fully implement public health protocols to ensure the safety of members of the public as well as employees and their families.”
The county is experiencing a surge of new cases and higher transmission rates. Many significant outbreaks of the virus have occurred in workplaces, from food processing plants to apparel companies.
The idea of workplace monitors was first floated by Kuehl and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in July. Since then, county staffers have been meeting with business and labor groups, and acting CEO Fesia Davenport has been trying to identify funding for the program.
County health workers will train employees who want to form these councils, and those employees will then monitor their co-workers and workers at other businesses, to ensure employee compliance with Covid-19 safety protocols in the workplace.
The board also directed county lawyers to draft an anti-retaliation ordinance to protect the employees who are doing the monitoring, so they don’t face retaliation from workers they identify as violators of Covid-19 protocols.
There are no protections for the workers who are being monitored and identified as violators.
“Every worker has the right to feel safe in their workplace and to voice concerns without fear of losing their job,” said Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion.
“The Public Health Councils and proposed anti-retaliation ordinance will protect thousands of workers and provide the tools desperately needed to curb workplace infections during the pandemic.”
The county’s resources are stretched thin in managing outreach to communities where large outbreaks have occurred and monitoring workplace compliance.
Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says her department plans to train hundreds of health workers from partner agencies to help with education and outreach.
The motion acknowledged that workplace councils are another way to enlist help in limiting the spread of the virus.
“DPH cannot do this work alone, and help is urgently needed. In these unprecedented times, the county is utilizing all its resources, including employers and workers, to keep the public safe,” the motion concluded.
A leading local labor group supported the move.
“We would like to commend Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas for taking on the challenge and championing Public Health Councils throughout this process.
This innovative program is a common sense approach to one of the greatest challenges of our time,” the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said in a statement released Tuesday evening.
“Public Health Councils address the problem at the source by utilizing our most powerful and extensive resource — our workers — as our eyes and ears in the workplace, ensuring that public health orders are followed to prevent new outbreaks,” the statement continued.
“We are happy an anti-retaliation ordinance will be included in the policy and look forward to seeing it. An anti-retaliation ordinance is crucial to the success of this program and we hope the language is strong as the pandemic has disproportionately impacted low-income industries, mostly composed of workers of color.”
Photo from Alpha Media Portland OR