Local leaders discuss pandemic challenges with essential workers

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Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez and Supervisory Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher on Wednesday promoted county and state proposals that they say will help essential workers and others disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Gonzalez and Fletcher, who are married, joined delivery drivers, caregivers and guards in a virtual meeting to discuss the impact of the pandemic on jobs and income.

“COVID has shown us so much about our society that many of us knew it was there, but it showed it in a way we should never be able to look away again,” said Fletcher. “And I’m talking about inequalities in particular.”

People of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections as well as its economic impact.

While Latinos make up 34% of the county’s population, they make up 54 percent of COVID-19 cases and 44 percent of deaths of the disease, according to county data.

Blacks and Hispanics make up a higher percentage of the core workforce, speakers said, and have suffered higher rates of job loss and reduced pay during closures. Those who remained employed often worked for low pay and without adequate health and safety protection, they said.

Fletcher said the county supervisory board will consider a risk premium for county workers and open a county labor standards and enforcement office to ensure pay and safety standards are met at the workplace. job.

“We thank you, not only for our thanks, but for our actions to improve your life,” he said.

The new office would provide information to workers and business leaders on labor laws and regulations, expertise on regional labor issues and a central place for county contract workers to address concerns. Fletcher plans to bring it to the board on May 4.

Gonzalez said his invoice, AB 257, would create a state council to establish minimum standards on wages, working hours, and health and safety conditions for workers in fast food restaurants. She introduced the bill on January 15; it’s in committee.

“We never really allowed fast food workers to have a meaningful voice at work,” she said. “Our fast food board will do it.”

These plans have drawn criticism. San Diego Republican Party President Paula Whitsell opposed the risk premium for county workers, saying those employees kept their jobs and benefits while other workers and business owners lost their income and struggled to pay their bills during the pandemic.

She said the money envisioned for the risk premium should be spent on businesses and housing assistance.

“We call on President Nathan Fletcher and the San Diego County Supervisory Board to direct these stimulus funds to those in desperate need of it, the most unfortunate of us who haven’t received a paycheck in 2020. “Whitsell said in a statement. “It’s just not fair to give San Diego County staff a financial boon.”

Speakers at town hall said they faced high risks and financial hardship during the pandemic and subsequent closures.

Rachel Randolph, an employee of the County Polinsky Children’s Center, which provides residential care for children removed from their homes, said she cared for children with COVID-19 at the facility. This leaves her and her family vulnerable to infection and leaves young residents bewildered by restrictions that prohibit staff from hugging or holding them.

“As workers, we have not been able to stop going to work and take care of these children,” she said. “We are the forgotten individuals, just like the children. No one cares that we have to go to work every day, no matter what we bring home. ”

Nursing home worker Antonio Poteat said older people in centers are not getting the care they need, while nurses and other staff lack personal protective equipment to do their jobs. safely.

Delivery driver Randi Stokes spoke on behalf of the Mobile Workers’ Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of 20,000 drivers for companies including Uber, Instacart, Postmates and Lyft. Because these drivers are considered “construction workers” or independent contractors, many have struggled to secure unemployment compensation during the pandemic, Stokes said, and few, if any, are receiving insurance. sickness benefit, sick pay, or other benefits they would need in the event of illness.

“While white-collar workers can afford to stay at home, we were on the road, risking exposure,” she said. “Although it is essential, we were not treated that way. I have always felt like an essential and expandable worker. “

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