Labor union officials representing San Francisco Department of Public Works employees said on Wednesday they’re calling on the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to investigate what they say are hazardous working conditions.
The Laborers’ Local Union 261 filed an Imminent Hazard complaint with Cal-OSHA last week, alleging the city had failed to comply with state standards to protect workers from COVID-19 after several recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“We need action now to protect workers and the public from COVID-19,” Local Union 261 Business Agent Theresa Foglio-Ramirez said in a statement. “San Francisco talks a good game about protection and prevention, but they treat their own workers as if we are expendable.”
The union has alleged DPW refuses to enforce mask use among employees and refuses to provide dedicated restroom and handwashing facilities, forcing employees to use the Pit Stop public toilets used by the homeless, which the union said make employees feel unsafe.
Last year, DPW field workers — tasked with cleaning the city’s streets and handling biohazards like garbage, urine and feces — staged a rally at the department’s Operation Yard, over the bathroom issue.
“These workers are putting their lives at risk to clean San Francisco as best as possible given the overwhelming and growing homeless encampments — and the reality of COVID-19 health threats,” Foglio-Ramirez said. “The city and the state must protect them, otherwise this outbreak could grow exponentially.”
DPW confirmed on Monday that since Nov. 25, at the start of the holiday surge, 29 employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Through contract tracing investigations within the department, DPW officials said it’s likely just one of those cases involved transmission in the workplace. As a precaution, however, in each case close work contacts of those who tested positive were also asked to self-quarantine.
In addition, DPW said it had already put several safety measures in place since the start of the pandemic to help protect workers. Measures include daily health screenings and temperature checks for workers who are out in the field; mandatory face coverings for all employees; staggered shift times to minimize crowding; and heightened cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Furthermore, DPW maintains it provides a total of 50 bathrooms, including Pit Stop facilities and dedicated bathrooms for DPW staff, for field employees to use, in addition to providing hand sanitizer, water and soap for workers to clean up on the job.