Saturday, May 18, 2024

Farmworkers worry about their safety amid coronavirus pandemic

California has ordered all residents to stay home because of the threat of COVID-19, but thousands of farmworkers like Mariana are still showing up at work — despite worries that their employers are not doing enough to protect or support them.

Mariana, who wanted to use her first name only for fear of any possible employer retribution, been working in the fields for 12 years. She is one of the many essential workers in the nation’s biggest agricultural state, supplying food to the nation even though many businesses and institutions have been ordered closed.

“But we still have to go to work,” she told NBC News in Spanish. “So it would be good to implement some measures to protect us, like sick days. I think we have like three sick days, but I think that’s not enough.” Mariana has picked different crops over the years, and most recently was harvesting peppers.

Employment on farms tends to grow during spring season and peak in July — but this year, jobs could be fewer because of the pandemic. Against this backdrop, farmworkers are advocating for their safety as they continue “harvesting America’s food supply,” according to Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer at United Farm Workers.

UFW, the nation’s largest farmworkers’ labor union, is urging growers to take “proactive steps and implement best practices” to provide some basic information about the coronavirus and “extend certain rights and benefits so that workers can feel comfortable and safe in preventing the spread of the virus,” Elenes told NBC News.

The Economic Policy Institute, a think tank dedicated to promoting the interests of workers in economic policy debates, recommends that farm employers “provide adequate safety equipment” such as masks and gloves as well as “ways to disinfect their hands, tools, clothing and machinery.” “We need to care about these workers that are doing that hard work, heavy work, dignified work, professional work,” said Elenes. “They’re the backbone of the food supply chain.”