California has prioritized state and union power in handling the pandemic

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“In California, we follow the science.” That’s what Gov. Gavin Newsom has told the public repeatedly for more than a year as he criticized the less restrictive policies of other governors, all the while insisting that the state’s incomprehensible, color-tiered, ever-shifting response to the COVID-19 pandemic was entirely based on data.

This week, the truth became undeniable. In California, we follow the unions.

Newsom announced Monday that the state would wait until June 15 to align with new guidance from the U.S. government’s authoritative voice on health matters, the Centers for Disease Control. Days earlier, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most settings.

While states including New York said they will follow the CDC’s new recommendations immediately, Newsom’s statement means California’s businesses and public venues will continue to be burdened for one more month by the need to require customers, visitors and employees to wear masks, on pain of huge fines and potential loss of operating permits if they don’t.

Why the delay?

Perhaps it’s because California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and the California Department of Public Health are busy drafting complex new regulations for workplace health and safety. They’re deciding who must wear masks and when, as well as how far apart workers must be from someone else. The rules may vary throughout the workplace, depending on whether everyone is vaccinated, some people are vaccinated, or no one knows who’s vaccinated.

New regulations must be submitted to California’s Office of Administrative Law, which will have 10 days to review them.

As the term suggests, compliance with “administrative law” is not optional. California is known for its sledgehammer enforcement against businesses that fail to get every detail exactly correct.

And it’s about to get worse for businesses. There is now a movement, initiated and backed by labor unions and allied groups, to establish “public health councils” for the purpose of increasing workplace enforcement. These councils are made up of employees of the business who are trained by third-party organizations to report violations of public health orders and regulations. Presumably the third-party organizations will be labor unions and allied groups.

In November, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to establish public health councils in four sectors: food manufacturing, restaurants, garment manufacturing and warehouses.

Proponents say this is an effort to expand the capacity of the Department of Public Health by empowering the councils to refer violations for legal action. Business groups say the real goal is to use COVID as a pretext to get union representatives inside non-union workplaces.

If California were to go “back to normal,” unions would not have this new leverage to compel access to private businesses. There would be fewer rules to enforce, fines to collect, lawsuits to settle.

More evidence that California’s pandemic response is all about empowering unions can be found in Newsom’s refusal to order the schools reopened, something that other governors did long ago.

Newsom declared that school reopenings would have to be negotiated at the local level. This has allowed teachers’ unions to hold up reopening while they issue demands unrelated to health. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to pay school employees who have young children an extra $500 per month for child care. The longer the teachers insist that it’s not safe to return to the classroom, the more concessions they win at the COVID-enabled bargaining table.

The scare tactics must stop. On Wednesday, two new research papers were published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics which found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted in California by at least 40 percent, and these reported rates “greatly overestimate the true burden of COVID-19 disease in children.”

It’s good news that COVID-19 is even less of a threat to children than previously believed. It’s bad news that teachers’ unions continue to alarm parents and children with false statements that it’s not safe to fully reopen the schools.

The CDC announced in February that schools can reopen safely even if teachers are not vaccinated, and now the CDC says fully vaccinated people may take off their masks.

Newsom’s decision to follow the unions instead of the science continues to do incalculable damage to the people of California. In Pennsylvania, voters just approved two constitutional amendments to limit the power of their governor during emergencies. That’s what we should be following.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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