Newsom declines to introduce strict state-wide COVID-19 construction shutdown rules

Gavin Newsom
Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says that that California will not follow the lead of states like New York or regions like the Bay Area that have banned most construction projects during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying on April 2 he is satisfied the state has “strict workforce efforts” in place to protect its army of construction workers.

“We’re not New York … and we’re going to do everything we can to bend our curve,’’ Newsom said. He said there are “very different conditions in the state of California” than in other states and cities, including New York Boston, that have shut down construction except for the most urgent projects

“We’ve been working very closely with the building construction trades” to ensure public safety, he said.

While Newsom isn’t imposing severe state-wide restrictions, the San Francisco Bay area has imposed much stricter stay-at-home regulations, which prohibit most commercial and residential construction.

Newsom said Bay Area leaders “have a legal right … to go even further” than the state’s order. “We’re not naive about the magnitude of our challenge ahead of us. But currently, I’m satisfied with those state directives.’’

Robbie Hunter, leader of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California — with a membership of 460,000 workers and 60,000 apprentices — told Politico that industry leaders were alarmed when the Bay Area shutdown order went into place without any outreach to the construction industry.

He told the news site that the Bay area order ignored tough standards the union has instituted since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak to protect its workers — including taking temperatures at work sites, sterilizing tools and equipment, banning food trucks, implementing strict measures to discourage gatherings and mandating strict social distancing.

“We’ve trained our people to work in the Borax mines, in tunnels underneath the Bay … and we build 80-story skyscrapers without losing a worker — or even a serious injury,’’ Hunter said. “We are used to serious training for different scenarios — and we have applied everything we’ve got on this.’’

“We have our union reps out on job sites … making sure and the developers contractors themselves are absolutely leading the charge. They all understand that they cannot afford to have a problem on a job site.”

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s March 31 order mandated construction “must cease through May 3.” There are some exceptions: For residential construction, “only projects with an on-site affordable housing component may continue, along with homeless shelters.”  Exceptions also are allowed for “essential health care and public works projects.’’

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he witnessed “strict protocols” in place. “We have to do whatever we can to keep the economy going, while never jeopardizing public health and safety,” he said, adding that sites that are too crowded or close to the public will be shut.

The governor affirmed he has also consulted at length with Hunter, and applauded union leaders “for their strict workforce efforts … making sure their members are protecting their community, and those that they serve,” Politico has reported.

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