Farmworkers at Risk During the Pandemic

This edition of Green Gazette includes updates on farmworker strikes, electric highways, and more.

| October/November 2020

Many of the 2.4 million U.S. farmworkers are vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Photo by Adobe Stock/JackF

Farmworkers are deemed "essential" during a pandemic, but that designation is at odds with the limited protection and pay they receive for providing the nation's food supply. These workers, numbering 2.4 million in the United States, are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and in many cases lack the guidelines and supplies they need to stay safe, all while living and working in crowded conditions. Further, many of the workers are undocumented, so they may not feel safe reporting hazardous conditions. So, starting in spring, the virus spread unchecked through numerous agricultural hubs across the country.

According to the Environmental Working Group, as of mid-July, only eight states have mandatory protections in place for farmworkers, including personal protective equipment, distancing requirements, disinfection, testing, and housing and transportation adjustments. Other states have issued recommendations for these types of protections to stop the spread, but many don’t have any guidance or laws in place to prevent outbreaks and protect workers on the frontlines.

In some places, farmworkers have gone on strike to protest the lack of protections, demanding safer conditions and higher pay. In Yakima County, Washington, hundreds of farmworkers went on strike in May, demanding protective supplies and higher pay. Their collective action prompted a wave of protests throughout the region, with workers walking off their jobs, rallying outside the state capitol, and filing complaints to the Department of Labor and Industries. Workers at an Allan Brothers apple-packing shed formed a committee, Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia (Workers United for Justice), which was ultimately recognized by the company as representative of all the workers, and succeeded in pressuring Allan Brothers to adopt additional safeguards and offer temporary hazard pay. Washington state also released new regulations that companies must follow to keep their workers safe.

But production at agricultural companies hasn’t slowed, and many farmworkers are still at risk. Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has been monitoring the presence and spread of COVID-19 at meatpacking plants, food processing facilities, and farms. FERN’s graphs tracking COVID-19 outbreaks and cases are updated every weekday. Learn more here



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