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Many California state workers had mandatory OT over 4th of July. Unions say it wasted time

Sacramento Bee logoSacramento Bee 7/22/2020 By Andrew Sheeler, The Sacramento Bee

A California state worker union says a poorly organized coronavirus outreach effort forced hundreds of employees to work mandatory overtime with little notice on a holiday weekend and delivered questionable results.

The July 16 memo from the union that represents state attorneys and administrative judges calls attention to Independence Day assignments handed to hundreds of employees at the Department of Industrial Relations, which enforces California labor laws.

The department directed each employee to contact more than 100 businesses and to advise the companies about the latest rules governing work during the coronavirus outbreak. Some employees reported reaching a fraction of the businesses on their rosters over the holiday weekend.

Many state workers’ attempts at contact “were met with suspicion or hostility and told to call back during a regular work day because the business was already in compliance with the laws and mandates to re- open,” reads the letter by Peter Flores, president of the union known as CASE.

“The July Fourth weekend overtime ended up wasting valuable time and resources that neither the state nor our members have to waste,” Flores wrote.

The phone calls and visits were part of a multi-agency effort to ensure that businesses were adhering to the law, such as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandatory mask order, over the busy holiday weekend.

In a press conference on July 6, Newsom said that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health contacted more than 441,000 businesses across the state over the course of the holiday weekend, though the governor did not clarify what counted as contact.

According to a spokeswoman from the Department of Industrial Relations, 460 employees of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health as well as the Labor Commissioner’s Office called nearly 17,000 businesses and visited nearly 4,000 businesses across the state from July 3 to July 5, including grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants.

“Our role was to ensure that businesses and workers are familiar with COVID-19 health and safety guidance, labor law requirements and workers’ rights,” said spokeswoman Erika Monterroza.

Monterroza confirmed that the Department of Industrial Relations has received the letter from CASE, and is in the process of reviewing it.

Employees of the Department of Industrial Relations were notified on the afternoon of July 3, a Friday, that they were expected to work 12 hours of mandatory overtime, according to the union letter to department Director Katie Hagen.

Flores criticized the department for giving just a half day of notice to employees that they would be working overtime over the weekend.

“Attempting to find appropriate childcare with only half a day notice on the Friday of a holiday weekend made that task nearly impossible. Other employees had obligations to care for elderly family members over the holiday weekend,” he wrote.

According to Flores, some union members were denied pre-approved requests for time off in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, for which Flores demanded an explanation.

The Sacramento Bee spoke with a state employee who worked the holiday weekend and agreed to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.

The employee said that the state assigned a list of 150 businesses to contact. Of those businesses, the employee was only able to contact a manager less than 10% of the time.

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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