SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Workers with the San Francisco Water Department are calling on Mayor London Breed to provide increased safety protections for them in accordance with the city’s coronavirus safety standards.

Last week, the Water Department’s worker safety group Strength in Numbers released a petition, which has garnered more than 900 signatures as of Wednesday. People who’ve signed include city workers, ratepayers and community members, SIN officials said.

According to the group, “San Francisco Water Department employees’ concerns about their safety are minimized, or worse, ignored. They are expected to work as if this pandemic is not even happening. They serve the residents of San Francisco with pride, but they are being asked to put routine and non-essential work before their health and well-being.”

The group added, workers connecting water service or carrying out physical work at water department locations have a hard time practicing social distancing.

Additionally, although some offices and entire buildings in the city have closed due to the coronavirus, SIN officials say water department workers still are being required to work and connect water in some of the closed buildings. In comparison, sewer department employees are being given one week on followed by two weeks off, with no reduction in pay, during the pandemic, according to SIN.

“We cannot help but wonder if the reason SFWD workers feel disposable, rather than ‘essential,’ is because the city is putting Water Department revenue above the very life and health of its workforce. In spite of government leaders’ claims to the contrary, this does not seem like ‘weare all in this together,'” SIN officials said.

SIN is demanding that the city reduce workers’ workload to only essential work and institute one week on and two weeks off for workers
without loss of pay.

SIN is also demanding that the city provide enough personal protective equipment for workers to do their job safely, in addition to enhanced training that addresses working conditions amid the pandemic.

Lastly, SIN is calling for equal working conditions for all water department employees and for the elimination of hiring statuses like the city’s category-18, which labels some workers “as-needed” staff, who are subject to layoffs at any time. These workers are often prevented from speaking out against dangerous and unfair working conditions in fear of retaliation or losing their jobs, SIN said.

Although the petition is directed at Breed, SIN is also calling on the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to ensure the city follows coronavirus safety standards for city employees. The petition can be found at http://www.change.org/SFWDworkers.

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