A bill in the Legislature would require employers to notify state public health and safety departments as well as employee unions of a COVID-19 infection within 24 hours of an outbreak.
The measure, Assembly Bill 685, is sponsored by labor groups and has broad opposition from ag and business groups.
“This bill is going to be a gamechanger,” said Pete Maturino, an agricultural division director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. He spoke during a meeting this week of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Don Villarejo of the California Institute for Rural Studies claimed county public health officials refused to disclose infection details after an outbreak at a Smithfield Foods facility on the East Coast. He alleged they feared the information would “tarnish their image.” Villarejo said this bill would prevent that from happening in California.
Opponents argue AB 685 ignores current Cal/OSHA practices and would levy criminal penalties on employers even under ambiguous infection scenarios.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the fiscal impact of the bill next week.
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Meanwhile, dozens of Latino city councilmembers and trustees across the Central Valley have signed a letter urging the governor to ramp up resources to protect farmworkers. They call for more masks and COVID-19 testing that takes place in the field and at times and in languages that are best for workers.
“As local leaders, we are concerned because COVID-19 has impacted the farmworkers at alarming and disproportionate rates,” they write.
The letter comes as the state ramps up testing and isolation housing resources for the Central Valley through the governor's new Housing for Harvest program.
On the note of farmworker health, a new UC Davis study finds that being exposed to dust nearly doubles the odds of getting Valley fever. The chance of infection increased nearly threefold for those who worked with root and bulb vegetable crops. The study is based on research involving more than 100 farmworkers with the disease.