Barfield: Orange County Public Servants Speak Out About Workplace Safety

The COVID-19 crisis brings unprecedented instability and challenges for working families. OCEA is working non-stop to ensure that OCEA-represented public workers receive the levels of safety and support these uncertain times demand.

From the beginning of the COVD-19 outbreak, OCEA has quickly acted to compel public employers across Orange County to take the tangible steps necessary to adequately protect front-line workers, today and in the coming weeks and months.

Public health nurses, epidemiologists, health educators and more are working overtime to halt the spread of the Coronavirus and save lives. Social workers like Walter Muneton and his colleagues provide assistance to people suffering from severe mental illness. He continues to work on the frontlines responding to calls for service at private residences, shelters, jails, and any other location in Orange County.

Information Technology Engineer Angelo Lugo and Animal Control Officer Alexandra Su are out in the field performing duties that require contact with colleagues and the public. This is essential work you can’t do from home.

At a virtual Community Briefing on April 30, 2020, we released the results of a Public Safety Survey we asked our members to complete. Thousands of OCEA-represented workers from the County, Courts, cities and special districts responded. Now months into the crisis, here is what they have to tell us.

 
More than 44 percent of surveyed workers do NOT feel safe in the workplace and more than 40 percent say they do not have adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and shields. When asked about workplace safety needs, the top three responses were wipes and disinfectant, masks, and gloves – common sense items that workers should have already had.

These results show that massive safety gaps exist for essential frontline workers. These workers deserve safety in the workplace, stability to take care of the health needs of themselves and their families, and security as they keep our communities running safely today and into the future.

Now, more than ever, our public workers need to be able to serve the community while being provided with the highest level of physical and economic protection and security in the workplace. It is essential that public employers respond to this crisis by promptly developing and implementing policies and protocols that sufficiently protect workers, their families and the community from the COVID-19 virus.

 

We realize there is no “one size fits all” approach that can be taken. Some public sector employers have gone above and beyond and kept their workers safe. We thank you! For other workers, coming to work remains both dangerous and stressful.

OCEA members are often the experts when it comes to responding to the COVID-19 crisis. As our Governor and local officials determine phasing in measures to re-open our economy, it is clear that workers are not being kept safe. As the re-opening continues, elected leaders and politicians have an obligation to provide a safe workplace. Workers will accept nothing less.

Your public servants are working in every capacity you can think of from making sure facilities are clean and sanitary to processing evidence in the Sheriff’s Crime Lab. All play a role in keeping us safe. During a time when every contact with the public brings the risk of infection to themselves and their families, it’s wrong to deny them basic protections.

You can show your support for public workers by signing our online petition. We will use your name to show community support for common sense safety solutions. Click here for the link and learn more about how workers are fighting for basic safety standards.

I believe that public service is where talented people come together to make a difference in the communities they serve. We are truly all in this together.

Charles Barfield, General Manager, Orange County Employees Association

The Orange County Employees Association is the largest public sector union in Orange County representing approximately 18,000 workers. OCEA members are public health nurses, law enforcement officials, food inspectors, and other public workers who come to work every day with a mission to keep our communities safe and healthy. OCEA members work for the County of Orange, Orange County Superior Court, and various cities and districts throughout Orange County.

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