L.A. County Approves Protections for Workers Reporting Public Health Violations as COVID-19 Cases Surge

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    November 24, 2020
    For Immediate Release
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Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passes an ordinance protecting workers when speaking up about public health violations.

(Los Angeles, CA) The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor unanimously passed an anti-retaliation ordinance earlier today protecting workers from employer backlash when speaking up about public health violations or participating in public health councils, a program passed two weeks ago.

“Today’s motion ensures that no one has to fear losing their job if they speak up to protect public health,”  said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “Containing this pandemic requires that every person and every workplace in this County assume responsibility for implementing the steps needed to reduce exposure and infection.”  

“The establishment of Public Health Councils along with the adoption of an ordinance that beefs up our ability to address retaliation against those expressing concerns related to our health orders are critical tools to better protect our workers, businesses, and consumers against COVID-19, said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Workers must always feel safe speaking up about the conditions in their workplace. Their diligence in reporting is crucial to allowing us to act nimbly to curb the pandemic, especially during this holiday season.”

“As essential workers, we have been working under tremendous pressure to provide the community with the products and services they need during the pandemic,” said Desire Harris, grocery worker at Albertsons . “Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed one of the strongest anti-retaliation ordinances in the country to make sure workers can speak up without fear of being targeted by their employers. I shouldn’t have to choose between providing for my family or my safety at my job,”

“We know nearly half of all low- wage, frontline workers who take action to assert a basic workplace right like minimum wage or workers compensation, experience retaliation,” said Tia Koonse, Legal and Policy Research Manager at the UCLA Labor Center. The most common forms of retaliation are being fired and threatened with a call to immigration authorities. That has a profound chilling effect on workers who desperately need their jobs. We look forward to protection for workers who take action to stop COVID-19 transmission at work.”

“No one should have to choose between speaking up about a public health violation in the workplace and potentially losing their job for doing so,” said Rob Nothoff, Policy Director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “Unfortunately, there’s the very real threat of retaliation that workers face for speaking up and reporting public health violations in the workplace.  Should they speak up and run the risk of being fired? Or should they remain silent and leave the public at risk of potential exposure? Today’s anti retaliation ordinance addresses this issue head on, and moves us forward in our efforts to flatten the curve of infection as well as the curve of inequity.” 

“Many business owners we know wouldn’t dream of firing a worker because they pointed out a public health threat,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) “But time and again, workers have indeed experienced retaliation, whether they are asking to be paid for the work they’ve done or speaking out about a public health hazard. Today, our County Supervisors have shown they stand by workers committed to making their workplaces safer for all and helping to end the pandemic. If a server has to tell a customer they need to move their chair away from another group, or a barista has to ask a customer to wear a mask, they need to know they will not be fired for it. We need to co-create a safer, more inclusive, and better economy than we had before–and Public Health Councils backed by today’s anti-retaliation ordinance are a vital part of building back stronger.”

The ordinance takes effect immediately in Los Angeles County, excluding Pasadena and Long Beach who each have their own public health departments. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion to establish public health councils in an effort to expand the capacity of the Department of Public Health. The program utilizes workers to adhere to public health orders and report violations. 

Initial implementation includes four sectors: food manufacturing; restaurants; garment manufacturing; and warehouse. Third party organizations will assist workers in their roles in public health councils.  

Los Angeles County continues to see an alarming spike in confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 with 6,124 new cases totaling 370,636 cases and 7,446 deaths, as of Monday, Nov. 23.

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