Asian and Latinx workers in California making less than the minimum wage were less likely to receive information about COVID-19 from their employers, according to a new report from Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus and UC Berkeley.
The report surveyed 636 primarily Asian and Latinx workers in November and December 2020, working mostly in a few industries: restaurants, janitorial and hospitality, and domestic and home healthcare. Broadly, about one in five of those workers reported making below the minimum wage.
Across all income levels, though, 49% of respondents said that, if they fell ill with COVID-19, they worried that they would not be able to support themselves or their families.
In some ways, the findings showed a similar situation to pre-pandemic conditions for these workers, according to Winnie Kao, one of the report's authors and senior counsel at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus.
"I think that there were a lot of ways in which the findings on the information were not necessarily so different from the abuses and issues that we just see regularly," Kao told Insider. But there's obviously a whole new set of circumstances: "I think what was startling to us was to see them happening in the context of a pandemic when the stakes are so high, both for the workers themselves and for the public."
Workers — especially lower-wage women — also found themselves on the other side of negative interactions with people who did not follow COVID-19 protocols, according to the report.
Overall, 29% of workers said that they had these negative interactions with coworkers, customers, or clients. The situation was worse for women earning less; 33% of women in the report's two bottom income levels experienced this.
Research from the advocacy group One Fair Wage found that harassment has become more severe for female tipped workers during the pandemic; according to the UC Berkeley/ALC report, about 49% of respondents who work in restaurants experienced negative interactions with people not following COVID-19 protocols. Two of those respondents said they or a coworker were physically assaulted.
Among workers who were concerned about COVID at work, 41% did not raise it to their employers. Their main reasoning for not doing so: They didn't think anything would change. And a third of all workers didn't feel comfortable reporting symptoms to their employers.
The report recommends, among other measures, increasing access to vaccines, paid sick leave, and healthcare, as well as a clearer path to citizenship and equitable benefits for workers of all immigration statuses. It also calls for structural changes in enforcing labor laws and curtailing labor violations, as well as amplifying employees' voices in the workplaces, including through committees and unions.
"It was striking how few real practical options a lot of low wage workers have. And, particularly during this pandemic, there are some protections out there on paper," Kao said.
"But when you don't know about what those protections are, or what your rights are, or even if you know about them with them if the employer isn't following those requirements — what this survey has shown is that workers have little real practical recourse."