The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal to facilitate worker-led “health councils” to monitor business compliance with public health orders.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion recommending that the county reach out to labor and business leaders and quickly agree on effective ways to monitor compliance with mandates to wear facial coverings, install protective shields and disinfect workplaces.
“We found workplace transmission has been a significant factor contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities all across our region,” Kuehl said, highlighting the need to find new ways to enforce public health directives.
More than 300 people tested positive for COVID-19 at Los Angeles Apparel, a South Los Angeles garment manufacturer that pivoted to sewing masks when the pandemic struck. Workplace outbreaks at a meatpacking plant in Vernon and many local grocery stores have also heightened concerns about workplace safety.
Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas suggested that workers could be certified to monitor violations and report them to public health investigators for follow-up. While workers could serve as the county’s eyes and ears in a wide range of enterprises, they are likely to be reluctant to come forward without protection.
“Employees must be allowed to form public health councils without retaliation by their employer,” according to the motion.
Department of Public Health employees are already overwhelmed with trying to enforce public health orders designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Two weeks ago, the board asked its lawyers to consider whether county workers who work for other departments could be assigned to assess fines against out-of-compliance businesses.
Hundreds of county workers in departments other than Public Health or Health Services have already been drafted to do work outside of their day-to-day jobs in the battle against COVID-19.
“We do not have enough staff on board,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said, before noting that the county will offer grants to small businesses to help pay for personal protective equipment.
The county will prioritize certifications for councils in the garment, hospitality, janitorial and food service industries, according to the motion.
Many residents employed in those industries turned out in a car caravan outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Tuesday morning in support of the worker councils, although the board met by teleconference rather than in the board room due to the risks posed by COVID-19.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said many businesses were trying to do the right thing and investing heavily in necessary supplies and equipment, but those who were putting the health of their workers and customers at risk should be penalized.
“We need to … ensure that the bad actors are called out and, if need be, that they are shut down,” Barger said.