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Labor Organizations Urge CAL/OSHA To Keep COVID Temporary Emergency Standards

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Joe Moore
/
Valley Public Radio

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards board today will consider easing many workplace safety guidelines implemented during the pandemic. Some labor rights organizations are concerned that a relaxation of the rules will lead to more COVID-19 outbreaks among farmworkers.

Under the proposed guidelines, most vaccinated workers would be allowed to go mask-free. That includes farmworkers.

Anne Katten, the Pesticide and Work Safety Project Director with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, said CAL/OSHA should require employers to verify vaccinations. 

“We’re afraid workers will feel pressured or embarrassed and say ‘I’ve been vaccinated’ when they haven’t,” she said.  

She’s especially concerned for farmworkers in counties like Merced and Tulare, where less than 50% of residents are vaccinated.

For farmworkers living in migrant housing, Katten says OSHA should not relax its COVID guidelines. Instead, she said, it should revert to a May 20th revision, which “exempts the farmworker housing from the standard if all farmworkers are vaccinated but otherwise it does retain the physical distancing.”.  

In addition Katten says the division should continue to require employers to provide N95 masks and free COVID-19 testing.

The California Labor Federation sent a letter to Board Chair Dave Thomas, urging the board to reject proposed changes to the standards. It cited the California Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 outbreak data that shows 748 workplace outbreaks occurred in the month of May alone.  

In addition, Worksafe, a nonprofit organization that advocates for workers, also circulated a petition ahead of the Thursday meeting, urging the OSH Standards Board to keep in place Cal/OSHA's COVIDCovid-19 Prevention Standard. 

CAL/OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.