There's an epidemic of violence against California workers.
A recent example was the April 18 slaying of Blake Mohs, a 26-year-old loss prevention worker at Home Depot in Pleasanton. Mohs was shot to death when he confronted a shoplifter who was taking a toolbox from the store.
Last week, a passenger attacked a United flight attendant at SFO.
But so much violence against workers goes unreported in the press. Mass casualty events and some gun shootings get coverage, as they should. But most violent incidents against workers receive no attention in the media.
Here is a stunning list of seven actual cases Dennis Popalardo and I at Boxer and Gerson have handled in the past six months alone:
Keep in mind that these incidents are only from one workers' comp caseload over the past six months. They are the proverbial "canary in a coal mine" showing that there is a widespread societal problem here in California.
We can represent these workers and help them get the medical treatment and benefits they deserve, but more is required from worker advocates.
The specific causes of the seven incidents outlined above do vary. But mental health and/or sheer criminality appear to be at the heart of each incident.
California is failing in both areas.
If you talk to California grocery employees and other retail workers, they'll tell you that shoplifting is rampant. Aggressive shoplifters confront employees and sometimes work together in organized ways. Proposition 47, misleadingly named the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, reclassified thefts of under $950 as misdemeanors rather than felonies, opening the door to widespread shoplifting and a lawless climate.
The anti-incarceration community may be happy, but California workers are suffering. A lawless work environment puts them at risk for the kind of incidents noted above.
Another problem: California has for too long not devoted resources to mental health.
We see severe mental health challenges on the avenues of some of the cities such as San Francisco, where a toxic stew of homelessness, drug addiction, street trash, criminal behavior, mental instability of some individuals and an understaffed police force adds to the malaise. Retail flees, downtown workers continue to work from home, and some streets become open-air drug markets or places to buy and sell stolen merchandise.
But violence against workers is a statewide problem and not just in a few urban settings.
California's mental health system and our educational system appear to be failing us. Many mental health professionals and teachers are burned out. And a significant number of Californians are impatient, entitled and resistant to rules and authority, quick to anger and willing to resolve their annoyance and disputes with violence. California workers are often bearing the brunt of this.
Legislative allies of those people will ultimately need to make some hard choices. This blog focuses on workers' comp, but injury prevention should be a big priority of labor and worker allies.
These are big societal problems. Patience is running thin.
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