Under orders from Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance, Cal/OSHA has begun cutting field enforcement inspector positions, reversing years of public and legislative efforts to bring California’s workplace safety agency up to the level of personnel and resources enjoyed by Federal and neighboring states’ OSHA agencies.
It’s time for federal lawmakers to catch up with the quickly changing relationship between employers and workers; an upcoming Supreme Court case could upend public-sector unions; New York farmworker loses court case to gain organizing rights, but vows to appeal; and the country’s biggest janitorial company faces new allegations of sexual abuse in the workplace.
An Oklahoma rehab center funnels forced free labor into private industry; the National Labor Relations Board reconsiders Obama-era union election rules; farmworkers at risk from California’s wildfire smoke; and domestic workers organize for greater labor rights in Seattle.
In the last two years, the California Legislature has provided the Department of Industrial Relations with significantly increased financial resources to enhance the effectiveness of Cal/OSHA and better protect the 19 million workers in the state. DIR has failed to take full advantage of these resources to strengthen Cal/OSHA while at the same time it has provided refunds to employers who have paid the fees that generate these unused resources. The net effect is a Cal/OSHA that is weaker and less effective than it could be if all available resources were put to work. The people who pay the cost of these resources “left on the table” are the workers of California and their families and communities.
The feds grant billions in contracts to shipbuilders with serious worker safety lapses; Texas lawmakers want to undo an Austin initiative that protects construction workers; Chevron agrees to highest fine in Cal/OSHA history after refinery fire; and Democrats hope to ban a dangerous pesticide after EPA fails to act.
Dozens of safety inspector positions in California are vacant while workplace fatalities and injuries in the state are on the rise. Cal/OSHA has had an average of 34 vacant field enforcement positions a month since July 2015, which means that more than $10 million in state-authorized funding was left unused.
Navy shipbuilders get lucrative contracts despite worker safety violations; Baltimore airport executive cited in worker retaliation case; thousands of California workers have potentially harmful blood lead levels; and immigrant workers lose their jobs after joining national protests.
Advocates sound off on whether worker safety will survive under Trump; an intimate interview with a waitress highlights inconsistent income and sexual harassment; a court blocks Obama’s overtime rule from taking effect; and United Food and Commercial Workers pushes for health and safety training for California’s marijuana workers.
Safety advocates say, if done right, this has potential to improve process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals nationwide.
The most recent annual Federal OSHA evaluation report of Cal/OSHA highlights progress made in some areas, but continuing failure to meet several minimum federal benchmarks as well as requirements of California law. The underlying causes of these ongoing problems are chronic understaffing of field compliance officers and a lack of political will in the agency’s leadership.