UC Berkeley Labor Center study shows COVID-19 impacts on workforce

Photo of a Trader Joe's employee stocking a shelf
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
A UC Berkeley Center for Labor Reseach and Education study investigated racial, gender and ethnicity-based segregation in California’s workforce, as well as the different impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on jobs. Pictured above is a local Trader Joe’s that has been abiding by COVID-19 safety guidelines.

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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of the California labor force would be considered as being employed in occupations of close proximity, according to a Nov. 30 study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

The study, totaling up to 10 parts, found that 22.1% of the workforce worked in “very close,” or near touching, proximity and 47.6% of the workforce had “moderately close,” or within arms reach, proximity. The researchers also explored racial, gender and ethnicity workforce segregation and how COVID-19 impacts jobs differently.

“While there have been many transmission clusters in workplaces such as meatpacking plants, health care facilities, warehouses, etc, working conditions and worker voices haven’t received enough attention in the general discussion about the pandemic,” said Kuochih Huang, study co-author and policy research specialist at the labor center, in an email.

According to the study, health care practitioners and technical occupations, such as registered nurses and physicians, accounted for 21.7% of the workforce in the “very close” proximity, followed by educational instruction and library occupations at 18.3% and personal care at 16%.

The study also found that women are overrepresented in the occupations attributed as “very close” proximity, amounting to 62.6%, while men overrepresent the occupations attributed as “moderately close” at 60.1%.

“The workplace is an important site of infection transmission and there is strong evidence that physical proximity to others is a key factor in determining an individual’s risk of exposure to COVID-19,” Huang said in the email. “Public health measures and public policies should be used to reduce the actual exposure risk that workers face, and to protect the groups of workers who are more vulnerable.”

While AC Transit and BART did not comment on the study, precautions have been taken, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison and an AC Transit statement.

AC Transit created the reNEW plan to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, and Allison said BART receives daily updates from the internal emergency manager, who has contacts with public health officials.

“We have a COVID-19 task force that reports everything,” Allison said. “We meet on a regular basis, and we are just encouraging people to stay home if they feel sick.”

The workforce at BART is split into two major groups — those who must be working in person, such as police officers and train operators, and those of higher flexibility, according to Allison.

Allison added that hand sanitizers, masks, gloves and free COVID-19 tests are provided for workers who remain on-site during the pandemic.

“We are not safety and health experts, and the understanding of how this virus is transmitted is rapidly evolving,” Huang said in the email. “So our measure, the physical proximity to others, is only one factor that can affect a worker’s risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the workplace, though several studies suggest that it seems to be an important one.”

Contact Jasmine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.