California Must Take Action Now to Protect #AlwaysEssential Farmworker

Governor Newsom and the California Legislature

Open-uri20200806-7941-yt698p

California’s farmworkers need us now more than ever to not simply identify these disparities and risks, but allocate resources and take bold action to keep them, their families, and the greater community healthy so that they can continue their frontline work.

This petition is sponsored by the COVID-19 Farmworker Study (COFS), which provides critical missing information on farmworkers’ abilities to protect themselves and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study brings together a collective of farmworker organizations, researchers and advocates to reveal information that can only be gathered directly from farmworkers who have been working during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, visit www.covid19farmworkerstudy.org.

To: Governor Newsom and the California Legislature
From: [Your Name]

California employs an estimated 800,000 farmworkers, with the majority occupying seasonal jobs without full-time, year-round work, and earning an average annual income of less than $18,000. An estimated 90% of California farmworkers were born in Mexico and approximately 60% are unauthorized to work in the United States. While all essential workers put themselves at risk when they show up for work during the COVID-19 pandemic, farmworkers face additional risks because they lack critical social safety net support afforded to other members of society.

The COVID-19 Farmworkers Study (COFS) provides strong evidence that the current pandemic amplifies existing injustices that have long been endured by California farmworkers, causing severe damage to their living, working and health conditions. California’s farmworkers need us now more than ever to not simply identify these disparities and risks, but allocate resources and take bold action to keep them, their families, and the greater community healthy so that they can continue their frontline work.

Among the numerous issues brought to light by the COFS, six principal findings arose from preliminary analysis that must be considered for immediate action:

1. Farmworkers experience dramatic loss of work and income during the COVID-19 pandemic

2. Farmworkers lack healthcare access and experience fear using medical services

3. Farmworkers are vigilant about COVID-19 prevention practices outside of the workplace

4. Farmworkers report low numbers of employers providing masks and face coverings

5. Farmworkers have valuable suggestions to improve workplace COVID-19 prevention efforts

6. Farmworkers are systematically excluded from important safety-net programs

In order to address these threats, we urge that the following policy and action recommendations be immediately considered and plans for their execution enacted:

- Expand healthcare access and coverage for all essential workers, including farmworkers, including prioritized access to free COVID-19 testing services.

- Ease the barriers for farmworkers to report COVID-19 related complaints and simplify access to support services.

- Strengthen Cal/OSHA enforcement and worksite auditing activities.

- Mandate reporting and timely public release of data on COVID-19 cases by occupation and industry by both employers and country public health officials.

- Provide extensive, culturally-relevant training to agricultural employers, supervisors, farmworkers (including indigenous languages) and trusted community-based organizations on workplace safety practices during COVID-19.

- Provide expanded income and safety net support for farmworkers, regardless of immigration status, including unemployment benefits and other direct payment programs.

- Involve trusted community-based organizations in the design and implementation of expanded safety-net programs for farmworkers, indigenous, and immigrant populations. Partner with community-based organizations in all programs to address a lack of trust and increase effectiveness.

- Involve workers in the development and implementation of workplace COVID-19 safety plans.

California’s agricultural workers have been the backbone of our state’s health and prosperity for generations, yet have been denied the same protections provided to most workers. As an essential part of our state’s reopening and recovery efforts, we must take bold action to protect and empower the workers that grow our food. The COFS Team, in partnership with allies listed below, urge you to take immediate action.

We look forward to working with you to implement the critical policy changes listed above, as well as providing you with detailed policy briefs from our complete survey data in the coming months.