Health Councils Empower Workers to Organize for Safety
The painful irony of work under COVID-19 is this—the workers most essential to the health and well-being of our families and communities are those too often denied the power to protect the health and well-being of themselves, their families and their communities.
And the bitter truth under that irony is how that power has been denied disproportionately to low-income communities of color.
But as history has shown, power can only be denied for so long before the people take it back.
Last November, Liberty Hill grantees won new policies at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to create a Public Health Councils program locally and protect workers from retaliation by their employers. These councils are designed to empower workers and ensure that public health orders on coronavirus are followed at their workplaces.
The councils will be established in these sectors: food and apparel manufacturing, warehousing and storage, restaurants and hospitality, and grocery retail. Groups who have been organizing for years in each sector with long-standing experience will educate workers on the health orders, help them form councils, and help them report violations to the Department of Public Health. And Liberty Hill is partnering with L.A. County to provide support to the whole operation.
Worker-led councils align with LHF’s core belief that affected individuals and communities are best positioned to address their own challenges. Protected by an anti-retaliation provision, workers will be able to communicate and negotiate with their employers and to seek enforcement actions by the County where necessary. And organizing around councils can empower workers to address their working conditions for the long haul.
While the Department of Public Health has staff members to enforce its orders, the broad demands of the COVID-19 outbreak have far outstripped their capacity to monitor workplace compliance. The councils will give workers the ability to quickly note and draw attention to any public health violations instead of having to wait for help from above.
The broad field of grass-roots experience going into this program includes organizations such as:
Filipino Migrant Center, Garment Worker Center, Hospitality Training Academy, Icaza Foundation, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, Pilipino Workers Center, Restaurant Opportunities Centers-Los Angeles, Thai Community Development Center, Warehouse Worker Resource Center
The UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Hazard program and the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health are training and helping to advise on implementation.
Alongside this work, other local foundations, including the James Irvine Foundation and the Together Towards Health collaborative, have contributed additional funds to support this program as a potential model for national efforts to better organize workers to protect their own health and well-being, as well as that of the public.
Despite the many devastating losses of the past year, we find ourselves at a turning point of the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers and their communities ready to reimagine their own power.
Liberty Hill donors’ rapid response to the pandemic helped many of these groups organize through these unthinkable disruptions.
Now safer places of work are on the horizon as we continue the fight to create a more just future for Los Angeles.