San Quentin Prison has not paid a big fine for numerous COVID violations and serious violations have not been abated, the Sacramento Bee reported March 17, 2022.
The violations are detailed in a 33-page July 2020 report by Cal-OSHA that includes a $396,000 fine, as yet unpaid, the newspaper reported.
Sixteen California prisons have been reported as having serious violations pending appeals that are more than one year old. CDCR spokesperson Dana Simas said in an email the department is appealing because it “addressed many of the issues raised.” She added that CDCR has tried to slow the spread of COVID-19 “with the best information available.”
The initial San Quentin outbreak killed 28 residents and one correctional sergeant and infected some 2,200 prisoners. It was blamed on the arrival of infected prisoners from the Chino Institution for Men.
Cal-OSHA Chief Council Dana Lucido said she has hired 18 more attorneys in the last 10 months to help handle all the appeals. “We’re lawyering up, too,” she said.
Evidence revealed prison employees were allowed to circumvent COVID-19 screening stations, according to the Bee.
Infected workers who were expected to finish their shifts fueled the virus spread, the newspaper stated. Also when people got sick enough for hospitalization the prison failed to contact Cal-OSHA.
Cal-OSHAS citations totaling tens of thousands of dollars are sometimes settled for pennies on the dollar, said the article.
“Many employers have the costs of ignoring and violating Cal-OSHA baked into their business models and just don’t care,” said Stephen Knight, executive director of Worksafe, an Oakland-based employees’ rights advocacy group. “This is just incentivizing and facilitating that willful negative behavior that’s bad for worker safety and, therefore, bad for California.”
Kaiser Permanente’s facility in San Leandro faces issues with emergency room staffers expected to use damaged and defective equipment. Another facility in San Jose was intubating COVID-19 patients with improper masks. An Oakland hospital failed to notify employees when they came into contact with infected patients, said the article.
Those three facilities were each fined about $80,000. They all appealed and the fines were reduced to an average of $29,500 each, reported the Bee.
Kaiser spokeswoman Kerry Leedy said the citations didn’t “align with applicable public health guidelines in place at the time or improperly failed to recognize severe supply chain shortages and other issues associated with the pandemic.”
The Cal-OSHA 2020 enforcement program was described as lackluster by Jeff Ruch, Pacific director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington D.C. group.
“If they know you’re a paper tiger, the quality and the amounts of settlement will diminish,” Ruch told the Bee. “The settlements seem to be dimes on a dollar.”
There will never be enough inspectors to check every employer but, letting employers off the hook for a fraction of the fine “is certainly undermining that goal,” said Laura Stock, director of UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program.