public works maintenance
Photo by Robert B. Livingston

Six Covid-19 cases have been tied to the Public Works operations yard on Cesar Chavez since April 23, and while the Laborer’s Union unabashedly describes this cluster of positives as an “outbreak,” the city denies that one is occurring. 

Mission Local has confirmed that workers or visitors at the yard, located on the 2300 block of Cesar Chavez Street between Evans and Kansas streets, tested positive on April 23, April 30, May 5, May 6, May 7 and May 12. Theresa Foglio-Ramirez, the city representative for the laborers’ Local 261, says at least one of these workers is presently hospitalized and on a ventilator. 

The sick workers, as far as the union rep knows, have not been vaccinated. She believes at least two of the workers intentionally avoided getting the vaccine. 

Work conditions at the yard have spurred two recent complaints from Local 261 to the state division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). In July, 2020, the union faulted the city for failing to provide 350 on-site employees “with reasonable access to sanitary and safe restrooms and fully-stocked and accessible hand-washing stations during their shifts.”

In January, it filed a second complaint, claiming substandard conditions at the yard were to blame for “no less than nine” covid cases in a three-week period.

Both OSHA and San Francisco Public Works described these complaints as “ongoing investigations.” Foglio-Ramirez said workers on site have noticed OSHA inspectors regularly visiting the yard. 

Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon confirmed that six cases have been recorded at the yard since April 23. Five of the cases were workers on the yard, and one was a visitor. 

“Through contact tracing, it is believed that four of the six cases were community exposures, not workplace exposures,” Gordon wrote. “As for the other two, it is harder to determine, since those two employees also have a personal relationship outside of the workplace.” 

Foglio-Ramirez said the union was disinclined to accept the results of the contact tracing. 

The city and union also disagree on whether this constitutes an “outbreak,” which is more than a mere semantic joust. AB 685, which became law on Jan. 1, mandates a rash of employee notifications and mitigation measures in the event of a job-site “outbreak.” 

Under the law, an “outbreak” is defined as “at least three probable or confirmed Covid-19 cases within a 14-day period in people who are epidemiologically linked in the setting, are from different households, and are not identified as close contacts of each other in any other case investigation.”

Gordon says these conditions have not been met; the yard is big, and does not serve as a single job site. 

“These cases do not constitute an outbreak under state law, because they were not clustered at a specific area within the Operations Yard,” she wrote. “To be defined as an outbreak, three or more cases must be connected to a specific area.”

Foglio-Ramirez, however, noted that at least four of the sick people spent time in “Building B,” which is where workers pick up the keys to their vehicles, refuel vehicles at a gas pump and is also the site of the men’s and women’s lockers. 

“City workers from other departments also use this facility,” she said. “The locker rooms, the bathrooms: This could get messier than just Public Works.” 


Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Join the Conversation


  1. At this point, if you’re a Public Works employee and you’re not vaccinated…. that’s what you get.

  2. Negligence in regard to AB685 isn’t enough to cross the threshold into covid civil suit land, and neither is declaring an outbreak. But I guess the lawyer logic for complete denial is ‘why take a chance?’ Or maybe it’s, ‘they want work comp? Let them eat cake!’

    Her reframing the word “setting” and parsing the definition of “outbreak” is squirrelly, and for some reason slightly entertaining. You should’ve asked her to define “specific area” Joe, just to see how far down the Clinton hole she was willing to go.

  3. How come they weren’t vaccinated? I mean those dates line up with the time vaccinations were open to everyone in San Francisco. I’m also more likely to believe experts in the medical field than people who are not part of the medical field. I know a lot about driving a car but doesn’t mean I could tell you much about what’s causing it problems.

  4. A culture of being too tough (or stupid) to get vaccinated. If you get sick and failed to get vaccinated by now in SF – its on you!

  5. What is the City doing (including Muni and SFUSD) to ensure high vaccination rates among employees, and particularly employees working in-person? I read a news story recently that police departments have very low vaccination rates, and that SFPD isn’t even tracking how many officers are vaccinated. I spoke with a 311 employee and he offered that he wasn’t vaccinated and didn’t plan to be. A very high number of SFUSD employees have applied to continue working remotely without vaccination, causing a spike in the need for substitutes. Before the City congratulates everyone on high Bay Area vaccination rates, why isn’t there a concerted campaign to reach out (educate, make available during work hours, set a date by which vaccination must occur absent a documented medical exemption?) to City employees where there is clearly risk and vaccine refusal. It’s wreaking havoc with essential services and will continue to spread this plague among the vulnerable and prolong the pandemic. Use more tools to vaccinate your own, City and County of SF.

    1. People who are anti-vax (and here am there are plenty of them!) can not be forced to get the vaccination. I’ve come across many people like that, and no amount of scientific evidence or reason can convince them. I agree with other commenters here… if you haven’t been vaccinated yet in SF and you get covid, that’s on you. You can’t legislate stupid.

  6. Could it be that due to other medical conditions they can’t be vaccinated? You are now moving into private personal health issues of the individual, which for an employer goes into a civil rights issue…..

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *