Member Story – Bobby Dutta
“…we are equally committed to fulfilling our duties in protecting the public by ensuring that food supplies, medical devices, and drugs continue to be safe and available for people in need.”
Bobby Dutta works as an analyst for the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) supporting processed-food manufacturers with food safety education and training, and responding to inquiries made to our branch under the Public Records Act. But since the COVID-19 epidemic hit, Dutta’s branch has been working overtime sharing and guiding local environmental health partners and consumers worried about contracting the virus within a retail food facility setting.
“Many of us are concerned about the transmission of COVID-19 and the well-being of our loved ones,” said Dutta, “yet we are equally committed to fulfilling our duties in protecting the public by ensuring that food supplies, medical devices, and drugs continue to be safe and available for people in need.” Dutta and his department are also working with federal partners to detect possible fraudulent COVID-19 test kits and components.
During the infancy of the coronavirus outbreak, Dutta became aware — and very concerned — about his workplace’s lack of social distancing. The CDC requires that if you work in an office environment you should have sanitizing agents and wipes, which were not present, and members were asked to continue under these conditions without the benefit of telework. Equally distressing is the fact that despite being the lead agency against the fight for COVID-19, Dutta’s department was not allowed to follow the safety advice they are dispensing to the public.
In response, Dutta used a provision in the contract, section 10.3, which explains that the state needs to provide members with a safe and hazard-free work environment. Since the best way to avoid the transmission is social distancing, the office wanted to telework, but the state’s response was to order members into work and discipline them if we did not. Dutta decided to amplify the needs of the members by taking it to management, escalating the issue to the deputy director of human resources division of CDPH.
After much back and forth, management called Dutta into his office, agreed to offer telework to members, and implemented the policy that afternoon. Without the union contract (including section 10.3) and a steward willing to stick up for the needs of his fellow workers, the telework provision could still be in dispute.
“I want to help other workers and members address this elsewhere,” Dutta continued. “Some workers in other branches are now citing our successes through the union as they petition their management to allow telework. All the department managers need to show compassion to our dedicated public servants so we can help California overcome this crisis.”
Much of their work is done in an environment where social distancing of six feet per person is not practical, resulting in members working at a significant risk to their personal health, especially those with an underlying serious health condition. “Sometimes as state workers we feel like firefighters running into a burning building with no gear,” Dutta said. “During an unprecedented health crisis such as this, we fill a critical need to preserve the public health and safety of everyone in our state. That’s why we’re the backbone of California.”