Mercury News

In the end, California lawmakers purporting to care about coronavirus transparency caved to business interests at the expense of worker and consumer safety.

The state Senate on Friday gutted Assembly Bill 654, legislation that was originally designed to give workers — especially essential workers — timely information about coronavirus outbreaks at their job sites.

The unconscionable act threatens the lives of Californians throughout the state.

It should be a given that the state’s Public Health Department would publicize timely worker outbreak data during a pandemic. Workers need the information to protect themselves and their families. And consumers deserve access to information that would tell them whether there has been a recent outbreak at restaurants, retail stores or other businesses that people frequent.

That was the specific intent of Inland Empire Democrat Elise Reyes in authoring AB 654. But the Legislature bowed to pressure from the California Chamber of Commerce and Assembly Republicans. Chamber policy advocate Robert Moutrie argued that the bill’s central public reporting requirement amounted to a “blacklist without benefit.” He was also concerned that the Department of Public Health would lag in updating its website.

Neither concern has merit. We know this because Oregon and Los Angeles County have already publicized workplace outbreak data since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The sky has not fallen,” said Kevin Riley, the director of the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program at UCLA. “Businesses have not had to shutter their doors because they’ve had their names out there.”

Meanwhile, workers elsewhere in California do not have access to crucial information, thanks to lawmakers who put business interests above the safety of workers and consumers.

It was only thanks to the efforts of Bay Area News Group reporter Fiona Kelliher that we know about the 171 coronavirus cases reported at Richmond’s Hello Fresh last July, 187 cases at a newly opened Amazon facility in Riverside County’s city of Beaumont in January, and 50 cases at an air conditioning company in Vacaville. And that the number of cases in Amazon facilities exceeded 1,700 in five counties: Contra Costa, Kern, Riverside, San Joaquin and Solano.

California already has a law in place, AB 685, that was intended to provide the needed transparency. But California counties interpreted the law in different ways. A Bay Area News Group investigation revealed that only about one-third of California’s local public health departments provided details of outbreaks in response to public records requests. The counties said AB 685’s language was too vague. So it’s beyond troubling that when lawmakers gutted Reyes’ AB 654, they repeated the original phrasing of AB 685.

Now it will be months before the Legislature can take up the issue again. Meanwhile, more than a year and a half into the pandemic, workers and consumers still will not have access to basic information they need to protect themselves from a deadly virus.

Get Unlimited Access
$3 for 3 Months
Subscribe Now

After the initial selected subscription period your subscription rate will auto renew at $8.00 per month.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.