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Posted on: Sep 21, 2020

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated September 15 through October 15 each year, commemorating the rich culture, heritage and countless contributions of the Latinx community to our society.

While we honor and give thanks to Hispanic labor leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez for their passionate leadership and activism in helping to unionize farmworkers and advocate for stronger protections for Latinx workers as a whole, recent data on workplace deaths and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic shows we still have a ways to go.

The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) reported last December that of the 422 job-related deaths in California in 2018, nearly half – 43% - were Latinx workers. Since 2013, Hispanic workers have accounted for over 40% of job-related fatalities in four of the six years data is available, with 49% in 2013, 46% in 2015, 46% in 2017 and most recently 43% in 2018.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect communities of color, largely attributed to historical inequities in access to healthcare and a greater presence in essential work settings such as farms, factories, health care facilities and grocery stores.

Despite making up roughly 39% of California’s population, the Latinx community has accounted for 61% of positive coronavirus cases in the state, and 49% of COVID-19 deaths, according to data from the California Department of Health website as of September 16.

One bright spot to improve protections for essential employees is Assembly Bill 685 authored by Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino).

The bill, signed by Governor Newsom last Thursday, requires employers to notify employees of possible exposure within one day of receiving a positive confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace and provide information to employees regarding any COVID-19 related benefits, including workers’ compensation.

These new protections are especially important for California’s farmworkers and other Latinx workers who continue to put their lives at risk while working on the frontlines of the pandemic, but it’s clear more outreach and training by employers is needed to combat the disproportionate effects of the pandemic and improve worker safety.

The Hispanic community is an essential part of California’s history and continues to propel our society to new heights. While we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and honor the many accomplishments of the Latinx community, we must also continue to raise awareness of the injustices and fight the inequities that plague our workplaces. Here’s to a better future for all.