Farmworkers harvest vegetables near Salinas.
Farmworkers harvest vegetables. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to establish an Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher, who proposed the office’s creation, called it  “an important step toward ensuring worker rights and protecting our workers from unfair labor practices.”

“The Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement is part of our ongoing commitment to protect working families, and I want to thank all of the community members who have led the charge on this issue for years,” Fletcher said in a statement after the board’s vote.

According to Fletcher, the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement will:

  • offer a central location for information and resources for workers and businesses
  • address concerns or violations of existing county contracts
  • deliver education and outreach on important labor issues for businesses and the community
  • conduct research, data collection and trend analysis for fair and safe workplaces
  • identify enforcement mechanisms
  • report annually to the Board of Supervisors for policy considerations

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, will report back to the board in 120 days with details on creating the office and related duties.

According to Fletcher’s office, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing problems, including unsafe work conditions, businesses not following health guidelines and refusal by some employers to pay full wages or honor mandated sick time.

Fletcher cited a 2019 joint Center for Policy Initiatives-San Diego State University survey, which found that out of 2,600 hourly workers in the San Diego region, 64% did not receive any sick days, received fewer than they were entitled to or faced retaliation when taking sick days.

“We see this new office as working in partnership,” Fletcher said. “It’s imperative that workers be treated fairly.”

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said establishing a labor standards office was “an idea that’s long overdue.”

It’s difficult enough for many workers to make ends meet, “and then they have no recourse,” she said. “It’s important to stand up for people who are working hard every day.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who cast the dissenting vote, said such an office is a state or federal responsibility but not the county’s.

While workers should have rights, “we should push the state for better resources” to establish those, Desmond said.

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