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Newsletter: Is a business near you ignoring COVID-19 guidelines? How you can step in

A sewing machine at Los Angeles Apparel
County officials temporarily shut down Los Angeles Apparel’s South L.A. garment factory this summer after inspectors found “flagrant violations” of infection-control orders.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Taylor Avery, here with the L.A. Times Business section’s weekly newsletter. As California keeps breaking COVID-19 records — and not in the good way — the businesses allowed to stay open are largely required to follow rules to help slow the coronavirus’ spread.

But not all businesses are complying, which can have fatal consequences for their workers and customers.

Customers and bystanders aren’t required to intervene if they see these rules being broken, but since several people have written to The Times to ask what actions they can take, let’s look at the options.

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You could start with a relatively low-key move: Ask the manager whether the business is aware of the rules and encourage following them. It might be an honest mistake, since rules vary by jurisdiction and industry — there are statewide guidelines as well as orders and guidance by local governments and health officials — and they have been changing over the course of the pandemic. (Before leveling accusations, make sure you’re up to date on the rules too.)

If the business continues its risky behavior, you can choose to get officials involved. Document the hazard you see. Note the date, time and location, and put together a detailed explanation and/or take photos.

If the business is in the city of Los Angeles, you can report it through the city’s online complaint form.

If the business is in L.A. County, you can report it through the online Environmental Health Online Complaint System. Or you could call (888) 700-9995 or email ehmail@ph.lacounty.gov.

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Beginning late this month, businesses that break coronavirus safety rules will be subject to fines from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Fines are set at $100 for the first offense and $500 for additional offenses, with a 30-day permit suspension after multiple incidents.

However, the county Department of Public Health receives a vast number of complaints about businesses: some 2,000 to 3,000 per week. If you want to escalate the matter further, said Linda Delp, director of UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, you could do the following:

— Contact your local elected officials. In Los Angeles, that could include the City Council and county Board of Supervisors members who represent your area. You also have the option of contacting your state senator and Assembly member, U.S. House representative or U.S. senators.

— Turn to your social media channel of choice. That can put you in touch with others who have had similar experiences with the business and could put pressure on it to comply with safety protocols.

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— Reach out to organizations you belong to, such as neighborhood groups, faith communities or your employer. They may be able to help you lobby the business to follow safety rules. Methods can include the above — contacting the business directly, filing reports and reaching out to elected officials — and can escalate to staging a boycott and spreading the world (with proper social distancing).

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◆ Workers at California’s unemployment agency tell reporter Patrick McGreevy that internal problems have greatly hindered their ability to process claims, and some have quit in frustration. Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that nearly 1 million unpaid claims may be eligible for payment but require more information, with estimates that the backlog won’t be eliminated until the end of September.

L.A. County’s contract tracing program has repeatedly failed to find workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 before they spread widely. Melody Peterson explains the system’s weak spots.

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◆ Senate Republicans want any eventual coronavirus relief bill to include a provision that would largely prevent workers from suing their employers if they catch the virus at work — and would let employers sue workers for demanding safer conditions, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes. That “would make workplaces immeasurably more hazardous for workers, and also for customers.” (Negotiations over the bill have been slow, and a deal does not appear close.)

California office spaces will probably get emptier and cheaper for the next few years, according to a new survey. I lay out the reasons, along with a look ahead at retail space, warehouses and apartment rent prices.

We all want lower drug prices. So why is that so hard to accomplish? Columnist David Lazarus examines why federal and state lawmakers “continue to struggle ... for solutions to this country’s shamefully, pathetically, inexcusably dysfunctional healthcare system.”

◆ COVID-19 is saving health insurers money — but don’t expect lower premiums, writes Bernard J. Wolfson for California Healthline. He describes how numerous health insurers are expected to try to raise premiums in 2021 despite big profits this year.

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Reader question

A reader asked us: In response to the coin shortage, how can people turn in their spare change?

My colleague Samantha Masunaga, who wrote last week about how businesses and customers are dealing with the coin shortage, tackled this question. She found that the U.S. Mint has encouraged people to start spending coins, exchange them for paper money at banks or take them to coin redemption kiosks such as Coinstar machines.

Wells Fargo asks that customers roll their coins in coin wrappers (which they can get at a Wells Fargo bank) before bringing them in.

While most banks would probably appreciate wrapped coins, customers can still bring loose change, said Beth Mills, spokeswoman for the California Bankers Assn. trade group.

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People thinking about using Coinstar kiosks, most of which are located inside supermarkets, should know there’s a 11.9% service fee if they exchange their coins for paper money. There is no fee if the coins are exchanged for an electronic gift card.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.

One more thing

Could a letter of explanation help your credit score? No, writes certified financial planner Liz Weston. But there are other steps you can take to build and rebuild credit.


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