Senate Committee Provides Stronger Protections to Keep Workers Safe on the Job

March 22, 2021
Sacramento, Calif. –Today, SB 606 introduced by Senator Lena Gonzalez passed in the California State Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee. SB 606 would give the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) the necessary tools to hold large employers accountable for workplace health and safety violations and strengthen worker protections to encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions and prevent employer retaliation.
 
“Workers are the backbone of our economy and the reason California has been able to move forward during these devastating times,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “We must ensure the workers who keep our families fed and our community running have safe working conditions now and in the future. This bill is critical to our state’s recovery. If we don’t slow workplace spread and prevent additional outbreaks, we’ll never see the end of the pandemic.”
 
SB 606 codifies federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) policy for egregious employers into California law, giving Cal/OSHA the authority to impose additional penalties based on the number of instances, like the number of exposed employees, for willful violations where workers have been knowingly harmed by an employer’s failure to comply with health and safety laws.
 
“Enforcement is essential to ensure worker safety,” said Andrea Zinder, President, UFCW Local 324. “However, penalties that are too low, or enforcement that takes too long provide little deterrent for big corporations who violate life-saving safety rules. SB 606 will help protect workers and the communities where they live by giving Cal/OSHA the resources they need to do crucial enforcement work. California must do all that it can to protect California's workers from COVID-19 every day they go to work.”
 
A recent study by the University of California at San Francisco shows the unspeakable price essential workers have paid for the failure of companies to keep their workers safe at their worksite.[1] Food and agricultural workers faced the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19, with a 39% increase in death rates during this pandemic, followed by transportation and logistic workers, facilities workers, and manufacturing workers. These jobs are typically held by lower-income workers of color who don’t have the choice of working from home and are often forced to work in close proximity to their co-workers.
 
"These common sense reforms passed today will strengthen Cal/OSHA’s ability to hold major corporations accountable for flagrant violations of worker health and safety laws," said Stephen Knight, Executive Director, Worksafe.
 
SB 606 will also help Cal/OSHA investigate and prove violations by making it easier for workers to prove retaliation. A rebuttable presumption of retaliation will apply where a worker reported unsafe conditions and was subjected to adverse action within 90 days. Unless workers can be protected from retaliation, they will be unlikely to come forward and report violations, increasing the risk at every worksite.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed severe weaknesses in our ability to enforce worker safety and health laws and regulations, resulting in countless unnecessary illnesses and deaths,” said Mitch Steiger, Legislative Advocate, California Labor Federation. “SB 606 creates meaningful penalties for egregious violators that willfully break the law and hurt workers, saves Cal/OSHA inspectors valuable time when citing employers that have endangered workers in many different locations, and better protects whistleblowers who face retaliation after reporting violations. Employers that make a good faith mistake will be unaffected, but those that knowingly injure and kill workers will face much stronger penalties. We look forward to working with Senator Gonzalez and our co-sponsors to enact this bill and help save workers’ lives.”
 
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Senator Gonzalez represents the 33rd Senate District, which includes the City of Long Beach and portions of South Los Angeles and South East Los Angeles including the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lakewood, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, Signal Hill, and South Gate. Senator Gonzalez lives in Long Beach with her husband Adam and three sons.
 
The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The Council is a part of the 1.2 million-member strong UFCW International Union. UFCW members are standing together to improve the lives of workers, families, and communities.
 
Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards and empowering us all to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For more information, visit www.worksafe.org. 
 
The California Labor Federation is made up of more than 1,200 unions, representing 2.1 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries.
 
[1] https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/California-s-essential-workers-dying-in-greater-15893374.php