California governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today that will bolster safety measures and provide additional paid sick leave for “front-line” food workers amid the current coronavirus pandemic. Crucially, the order fills in a gap left by federal relief that gave similar paid leave benefits for companies with fewer than 500 employees. On April 1, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act required employers of fewer than 500 employees to pay two weeks of sick leave benefits who weren’t able to work due to COVID-19.
The order provides workers at companies with more than 500 employees, such as farm workers, delivery drivers, grocery store employees, and fast food staff, two weeks of supplemental paid leave. Many food sector workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, so this new order would give them the ability to take time off in the event they were to get infected with COVID-19 or other illness. Those workers who are advised to self-isolate or seek health care in a hospital can now do so knowing they will receive a supplemental pay check.
Additionally, the order requires new health and safety standards to protect workers. Those new standards permit workers to wash their hands on a regular and as-needed basis to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While this makes sense during a pandemic, some people such as delivery drivers, farm, and grocery store workers, who don’t often have access to hand washing stations, will now be allowed to wash their hands every 30 minutes or more often as needed.
Recently, fast food companies such as McDonald’s were the subject of protests after workers complained of insufficient personal protect equipment, saftey measures, hazard pay, and sick pay. Last week, three LA-area McDonald’s employees tested positive for COVID-19. While this new executive order may not a direct response to these incidences, workers at fast food restaurants now have the supplemental paid sick leave to help isolate infected workers and provide a financial safety net for those that miss work.
Newsom called workers in the food sector the “front lines” of the crisis, naming them heroes for working to ensure Californians have food during the statewide stay-at-home order. “We must do everything in our power to make sure [food workers] are taken care of at home and in the workplace,” he said.
Just yesterday, Newsom issued $125 million in stimulus checks for the state’s undocumented workers, with that funding coming from a public-private partnership of state disaster relief funds and philanthropic partners. As of April 16, LA county reported 10,496 positive cases of COVID-19 and 402 deaths.