By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – In a move criticized by business groups and hailed by labor rights advocates, California labor regulators on Thursday extended state regulations on the coronavirus pandemic until next year with revisions that employers say could exacerbate the state’s severe labor shortage.
The revised rules require that vaccinated but asymptomatic workers who come in close contact with someone infected with the virus must wear masks and stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) from others for 14 days if they return to work.
The current rules allow these employees to continue working without restrictions unless they show symptoms – assuming the vaccine will generally protect them.
An unvaccinated worker who comes in close contact with someone infected with the virus should always self-quarantine for two weeks.
The new rules that come into effect Jan. 14 for three months in the most populous state have been approved by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. The seven-member Security Council is the political arm of what is known as Cal / OSHA. It adopted the revised rules without discussion by 6 votes to 1.
Business groups argued that the new rules would be particularly onerous for small businesses, especially restaurants and retailers.
âTreating vaccinated and unvaccinated people the same really negates the scientific value of the vaccine and discourages vaccination,â said Rob Moutrie, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.
But groups representing workers in California supported the changes. Mitch Steiger, a legislative advocate for the California Federation of Labor, said regulators last summer were foolish to relax COVID-19 workplace restrictions put in place earlier during the pandemic.
“It’s good that we realize that vaccines are not the silver bullet to get us out of this,” Steiger said. âThere is never a good time to start disarming against COVID-19. “
The adoption of the revised rules by the Security Council came a day after California reinstated the requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, including including the omicron variant, as families and friends gather for the holidays and the novel coronavirus cases are increasing.
Members of the Security Council have recognized “the science that vaccinated people can transmit the virus, and early reports show this to be especially true with omicron,” said Saskia Kim, speaking on behalf of the California Nurses Association.
Michigan, Oregon and Virginia are states other than California that have adopted COVID-19 emergency workplace safety measures.
The Biden administration has ordered all U.S. employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated, tested regularly, or wear face masks on the job from January 4. exacerbate the labor shortage.
The California Chamber of Commerce led a coalition of about 60 business groups arguing in a letter to the state safety council that vaccinations are still widely effective and generally prevent serious illness and death, even in cases of major infections.
The groups have warned that new rules requiring testing of vaccinated workers without symptoms could strain the availability of rapid tests and increase costs for employers. The rules apply to almost every workplace in the state, including offices, factories and retail outlets.
The tougher guarantees “will only worsen the current labor shortage plaguing California workplaces,” Moutrie predicted. In addition, reestablishing per capita social distancing is simply not achievable in many workplaces “which would have to physically move workstations or equipment.
California has a huge entertainment industry and Motion Picture Association of America vice president and senior counsel Melissa Patack told the board that the rules do not apply for filming movies, shows. television or commercials, because “actors cannot wear masks when performing”.
She added that workers who style and make up actors cannot stay six feet (1.8 meters) apart, so the new rules “could shut down many productions.”
While California labor groups have generally supported workplace changes involving vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, they are unhappy that other proposed rules for consideration in March would eliminate mandatory employer-paid sick leave for workers. workers infected with or exposed to the virus.
This temporary rule aims to allow low-wage workers without sick leave to take time off rather than spreading the virus at work because they could not afford to stay at home.
Getting rid of it would mean “workers will be forced to make the impossible decision to go to work while sick or stay home without pay,” said Stephen Knight, executive director of the rights group of WorkSafe, in an online petition to Cal / OSHA’s Standards Council.
Labor advocates could also work as part of the state, legislature and governor’s budget process to maintain the agenda, but prefer to keep the existing requirement, Knight and Steiger said.
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