Thursday, July 23, 2020

Workers Resist the Return to Work

My son quit his job at a mall retail store for health reasons. The business is a cramped jewelry store, and despite my son's repeated inquiries, he never received a formal statement on the company's COVID guidelines. There was nothing about lining up customers outside, limiting the numbers of shoppers at a time, or what not, besides a mask requirement. Plus, the unemployment insurance has been generous and my son's heading off to college in a couple of weeks. (He's moving onto campus, but his classes will still be mostly online --- his decision, not mine, lol).

In any case, at LAT, "Workers fear returning to work. Many are resisting the call":

A Santa Monica hotel housekeeper who works for minimum wage.

A downtown Los Angeles lawyer with a six-figure salary.

A Disneyland parking attendant who supports four sons.

A rural schoolteacher in Northern California whose husband has lung disease.

What they have in common: fear.

Also anger, confusion and frustration with California’s roller-coaster coronavirus economy — in which workplaces close and open and close again, rules for those that remain open can change by the day, and enforcement often seems lax.

Amid soaring infections and hospitalizations, Gov. Gavin Newsom this month again shut down a large swath of businesses across the state, including dine-in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, card rooms, gyms, hair salons and some offices.

Nonetheless, thousands of employees who have been furloughed or able to work from home since March are being called back to physical workplaces.

Many, especially those backed by powerful labor unions, are resisting. They cite the failure of employers over the last four months to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, even in hospitals, nursing homes, fast-food outlets, grocery stores and warehouses where workers were deemed “essential” by the state.

“Workers who never left the workplace were often not sufficiently protected,” said Laura Stock, director of the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley. “Now a lot of people have been forced to go back to work in circumstances they don’t feel are safe.”

Since March, more than 17,800 workplace complaints about COVID-19 have poured into the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, had received some 3,800 complaints as of mid-July.

Businesses are often less than forthcoming with workers about whether they have been exposed to an infected colleague, Stock said, and jurisdiction between county health departments and Cal/OSHA, which has long been underfunded, is unclear.

Furloughed employees called back to the workplace usually lose unemployment benefits if they don’t return. “It’s a terrible situation,” Stock said. “People have to choose between a paycheck and their health — not only their own health, but their health of their family and their community.”

On a corner of Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles this month, dozens of masked housekeepers and dishwashers held a lunchtime rally, waving hand-lettered signs reading, “I don’t feel safe” and “Pause reopening of hotels.”
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