Managers at Santa Cruz County Environmental Health have ignored safety concerns raised by employees for more than two years. As part of a team of first responders to hazardous materials calls, Tim Epperson recognized that their emergency response vehicle was lacking basic safety equipment – roadside flashers and a two-way radio – which he brought to management’s attention in 2015.
As the Hazmat team continued faithfully performing their duties, inclement weather in 2017 reminded them that management had not fulfilled their obligation to keep employees safe. Thankfully, our labor contract contains protections that allow employees to reject any work assignment that they consider unsafe (see Article 20, “Health and Safety”). When SEIU tried invoking this right, management retaliated against workers by threatening to withhold a 5% pay differential if they refuse to continue subjecting themselves to the unsafe condition.
SEIU filed a grievance alleging retaliation. At the grievance meeting, Tim and his co-workers insisted that County Personnel investigate these issues. Unfortunately, Personnel denied that any retaliation had occurred and refused to investigate management, leaving Tim with little choice but to notify the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which recently issued a complaint against the County, citing management’s failure to provide proper communication and traffic control equipment to keep our workers safe.
“It’s unfortunate that management refuses to take any responsibility for their inaction,” said Tim. “When that happens, sometimes you just have to do the right thing and take a stand for yourself and your co-workers.”