A number of L.A. County employees working for Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger say the two have failed to keep them safe, it was reported Thursday.
Both Solis and Barger have made clear their views on ways to minimize risky behavior during the pandemic, asserting at news briefings since March that residents are “safer at home.” But some of their own employees say the supervisors have failed to practice what they preach.
The two supervisors, say the employees, have required them for weeks to work in unsafe conditions at the county administration building and in district field offices, and ignored their pleas to allow them to work from home, the Los Angeles Times reported. The complaints surfaced in an anonymous letter from members of both staffs that was circulated among county executives and provided to The Times.
The letter’s authors make the case that several people working at the county’s Hall of Administration are “young employees that are going to bars and restaurants and are at higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.” The employees also allege that the supervisors are not enforcing the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s guidelines at any of their offices.
They say the three other supervisors — Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn — have allowed their entire staffs to work remotely, The Times reported.
“They feel entitled to require staff to report back to their offices although their work can be performed remotely. It would be impossible for them to make a case that we need to be in our office spaces to perform our duties,” reads the letter, referring to Solis and Barger.
Solis and Barger employ about 75 full-time staffers between them who work on the eighth floor of the county’s Hall of Administration building downtown and in field offices across their districts.
The supervisors say that their policies on teleworking have varied over time because of technology issues and the importance of meeting the needs of their districts, The Times reported. Some of their responsibilities, they say, involve providing essential services for residents. Barger is board chair, which comes with additional administrative duties.
Solis, who served as President Obama’s Secretary of Labor from 2009-13 and has been a vocal critic of employers failing to protect workers, said in a statement that she takes employee feedback seriously and that she has asked the county’s human resources department to “carefully review the claims in the anonymous letter relating to employee safety.”
Solis said because she is chair pro tem, meaning she will become board chair in December, her office has “increased responsibilities in responding to this crisis and running the business of the county.” Her staffers, she said, have provided assistance at food distribution centers and helped distribute personal protective equipment at nursing homes, among other pandemic-related duties.
Since the letter surfaced and The Times requested a response from Solis, working conditions appear to have improved, with employees now granted more telework options, according to a staffer who spoke with The Times.
Barger, whose geographically massive district encompasses 2,807 square miles of north L.A. County, said her office implemented “a modified work schedule that enables all staff to telework on staggered days.”
Currently, staff work remotely 50% of the time and in the office the other half. The use of teleworking as an option for employees has “fluctuated over time” and was most recently reinstated July 14, according to Barger’s office. This was after employees sent their letter.
Other supervisors have taken a different approach.
In Supervisors Kuehl’s and Hahn’s offices, all employees are working from home, and rarely go into the office. None of their field offices are open. In Ridley-Thomas’ offices, the majority of staff are working from home, and no one is required to come in. Field offices remain open.
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