As SoFi Stadium construction continues, some workers worry about the coronavirus

Earthmoving machines crawl over huge piles of dirt. Dump trucks crawl on Prairie Avenue and cause traffic to crawl. Backup alarms beep and dust swirls as heavy equipment navigates the sprawling location where Inglewood’s glossy, sail-shaped centerpiece rises toward completion.

SoFi Stadium, the future home of $ 5 billion of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers, will open with a Taylor Swift concert in late July. And nothing, not even the coronavirus outbreak that has rocked entire industries and left tens of millions of workers at home across the province, will stop construction.

Over the weekend, an unidentified employee tested positive for COVID-19 and another Monday would be “presumed positive.” But an estimated 3,000 people – carpenters, crane operators, electricians, ironworkers, painters, and tile layers – continue to work. Some of them, while grateful for the opportunity as unemployment skyrockets, fear that the project could expose them and their families to the virus.

“If our safety were the most important thing, they wouldn’t have us here,” said a tier before receiving news about the positives. Everyone is talking about it. Your focus is not 100% on your work. You have that in mind. … we feel that we are invisible. “

The tile layer belonged to half a dozen construction workers who spoke to The Times on the condition that they would not be identified for fear of retaliation. They are in conflict and wonder if they are putting their health at risk to collect a good salary as the economy deteriorates.

“If they want the stadium ready, they have to provide something to minimize the risk of someone being exposed,” said an electrician. “It doesn’t take much to realize how big this is [problem] could be.”

“Everyone is a little nervous,” said a second electrician, “but we need the money.”

It’s a dilemma that SoFi employees share with people in projects across the country.

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on March 19, but SoFi and other construction projects are exempt because they are considered critical infrastructure. Likewise, other state and local governments have continued construction, making it an essential service. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently halted most construction work due to safety concerns, but continued work on affordable housing, hospital and infrastructure projects.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles said his city is sending inspectors to workplaces to ensure that security measures are followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The 298-acre Inglewood project, which was groundbreaking in November 2016, will be the centerpiece of a mixed-use development on the site of the old Hollywood Park circuit and a critical part of the city’s transformation into a sports and entertainment center.

An email on Monday informed SoFi employees of the positive test and the supposed positive, stating that both people had symptoms more than a week ago and were sent home to quarantine.

“We are contacting you because we suspect that others in the Project had ‘casual contact’ with the individuals in the past 14 days,” the email said. “We will investigate and implement additional sanitary measures specific to this as needed. incidents. “

The email instructed employees to stay at home if they felt sick “for whatever reason and symptom.”

Turner-AECOM Hunt, the joint venture overseeing construction of SoFi, said it has taken steps to keep workers safe, increase the number of toilets and hand wash stations, activate toilets in the stadium, clean field offices every day and non-essential employees to work at home. Employees are told to stay at home if they have a cough, fever, or breathing difficulties and not return until they have no signs of illness or fever for 24 hours without using medication.

De Rams, whose owner Stan Kroenke finances the project privately, referred comments to a spokesman for the joint venture.

“The safety of people on the ground and in our community remains our top priority,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

At SoFi, social distance is maintained through measures such as blocking meetings of more than 10 people, restricting access to the staff lift, suspending or reorganizing tasks that “require close contact” and assigning workers. ” keep two meters between each other, “said the project spokesperson.

This is consistent with the state’s approach by the state. “If people are going to do construction work, they need to take the appropriate social distance, be it fewer people on the job site or people who are more distant,” said Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the emergency governor’s office.

But some stadium workers said that, despite management efforts, social distance was not consistently practiced or enforced. The Times reviewed photos of the past few days when employees came up close or performed tasks.

“It is impossible to distance yourself and do your work,” said the first electrician. It’s crazy how some people still don’t take this seriously [colleagues] during lunch. See what happened in Italy. … I don’t want that to happen in my community. “

The electrician described a whistle-in-the-gallows joke among colleagues who said “Corona!” when someone coughs or sneezes.

A fourth electrician described up to eight people who filled an elevator to get to and from their workplace.

“I hold my breath when I pass someone and I take my vitamins,” he said.

A union official who worked with ironworkers posted several photos of the site on social media last week.

“Corona virus is being dammed,” the caption said. “We’re working. Essential / Expendable?” He added a note, calling it the “most populous job site I’ve ever been in my 39-year career.”

In response to questions of social distance, the Turner-AECOM Hunt spokesman said regulators have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for not following the procedures and violations are grounds for dismissal.

“We are working hard to create a safe workplace, enforce protocols and protect workers,” said the spokesperson. “We actively listen to employees and address any concerns. If they feel uncomfortable, they are free to stay at home. ‘

An electrician who has been working on the project since August summed up the tension he and his colleagues feel: “They say you don’t come in when you’re sick, but you want to get your salary. Here, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. “

A letter to members of the Pasadena-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 in mid-March said that because of an agreement between IBEW International and National Electrical Contractors Assn., Workers were denied access to a job site because of COVID-19. accept temporary leave and apply for unemployment, and the employer will not dispute this.

“Remember,” said the letter, “our jobs are an essential part of the California economy, but your health and that of your family should be your priority.”

The SoFi employee diagnosed with COVID-19 is recovering well, said Turner-AECOM Hunt spokesperson. The worker did not enter the stadium, but reported to an “isolated material pre-assembly.” Equipment used by the worker was disinfected, his colleagues notified, and those in close contact are under self-quarantine. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question of whether the quarantined workers are paid.

“We are completely transparent in our communication with everyone; transactions and supervision. This includes potential or confirmed exposures, daily updates on best practices, government guidelines, guidelines and listening to and addressing employee concerns, ”said the spokesperson.

The tile layer said otherwise.

“You feel that if you stop showing up, you won’t have a job,” he said. “I feel like my hands are tied. Even if they don’t say they will lose you, that’s how you feel. “

Times staff writers Andrew Khouri, Gary Klein, Taryn Luna and Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.

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