Workers Comp Zone


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.

Yesterday 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 7 actual such cases Dennis Popalardo and I at Boxer and Gerson have handled in in the past 6 months alone:

• A Safeway employee in Alameda, Ca. threatened and then punched in the head by a person, one of several individuals he observed throwing and destroying store merchandise

• A Savemart grocer employee in Oakland, Ca. punched in the head and knocked down after she held a cart of a shoplifter who moved past the self-checkout without paying

• A manager of a business in Pittsburg, Ca. threatened with a gun by an employee upset that he was being terminated for being a no-call, no-show at work. Luckily, although the trigger was pulled, the gun failed to discharge

• A San Francisco public school employee assaulted with a baton by an employee of San Francisco Parks and Rec Department while the SFUSD employee was attempting to convince some students who had left school to go to the park to leave the park bathroom

• A Lucky Supermarket employee in San Leandro Ca who was hit in the head with a projectile thrown by a shoplifter. The shoplifter had been escorted out of the store by security but came back into the store to assault the worker

• A United Parcel Service package car delivery driver who was assaulted by a customer as she walked away from an Oakland apartment after delivering a package there. She was punched in the back of the head and then kicked after she fell down

• A worker at the United Parcel Service Oakland sorting facility near the Oakland airport; a person unknown to anyone at UPS came inside the sort facility and knocked the worker out while he was sorting packages on a belt conveyor; this incident happened in full view of other employees

Keep in mind that these incidents are only from one workers’ comp caseload over the past 6 months! They are the proverbial “canary in a coalmine” 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 7 incidents outlined above do vary. But mental health and/or sheer criminality appear to be at 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 shoplifting is rampant. Aggressive shoplifters confront employees and sometimes work together in organized ways. Prop 47, misleadingly named the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”, among other things, 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, 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 working 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. But patience is running thin. 

Stay tuned.

Julius Young