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Regional Interests

Bill Would Require Public Disclosure of Individual Workplaces With COVID Outbreaks

The California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee voted today to forward a bill that would require the California Department of Public Health to post workplace COVID-19 outbreaks on its website.

Five members of the committee, all Democrats, voted yes on AB 654, with two Republican Assemblymembers voting no.

The bill expands on earlier legislation that mandated that the state post information online about outbreaks by industry, without naming employers. The new bill would go further, requiring state health officials to allow the public to track COVID-19 outbreaks by individual workplace.

The earlier bill, AB 685, went into effect Jan. 1, with the required data posted several months later.

During the hearing, committee Vice Chair Heath Flora, R-San Joaquin County, questioned why business owners should be blamed for outbreaks that may have originated outside of work.

“We’re going to hold a business accountable for things that people do outside of the workplace,” Flora said. “In my district, we have large employers that employ multiple families, multiple people from the same family. If they’re hanging out at a dinner or in the barbecue in the backyard and they bring that to the workplace, how in good faith can we hold the business responsible for that?”

Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Inland Empire, who introduced both bills, replied that the legislation had nothing to do with who’s responsible for an outbreak.

“It has to do with making sure that a worker knows they’ve been exposed,” Reyes said. “And making sure the community knows when there’s an outbreak at one of the workplaces in their community.”

Representatives of the the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council and the California Labor Federation called in to the hearing to voice support for the legislation, saying essential workers have a right to know about outbreaks.

Groups including the Family Business Association of California, Housing Contractors of California, the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities and the Agricultural Council of California voiced opposition. Rob Moutrie, policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce, argued the legislation would shame businesses for events they cannot control.

AB 654 will now go to the Appropriations Committee before it heads to the Assembly floor.

—Alexandra Hall

Copyright 2021 KQED