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OSHA’s New Emergency COVID Protections Exclude Essential Food Workers

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June 10, 2021 — Today, more than a year into the pandemic, the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its first Emergency Temporary Standard establishing enforceable COVID-19 safety protocols for employers only in health care facilities. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced that “OSHA has tailored a rule that focuses on health care” and does not cover frontline workers in the food system and other sectors, who have advocated for similar protections since the start of the pandemic. 

In response to this announcement, FCWA and member organizations and workers released the following statements:

Suzanne Adely and Sonia Singh, Co-directors of Food Chain Workers Alliance, said: “Health care workers deserve to be safe on the job. But they aren’t the only ones who should be protected. Workers in the food system sacrificed their physical and mental health during the pandemic to sustain our country, even as their employers often neglected their safety and wellbeing. The Biden administration’s failure to include them under this new OSHA standard disregards that sacrifice, and sets the stage for further tragedy. 

“Food workers are among the most at risk and most underpaid workers, and disproportionately are people of color and immigrants, so they are especially vulnerable to employer exploitation. As states and cities end mask requirements and other COVID-19 precautions, food workers are already being exposed to risks like unmasked and unvaccinated customers, or reduced cleaning in their workplaces. Now more than ever, our elected leaders must hold corporations accountable to protect workers. OSHA should extend this narrow ETS to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all working people.”

Jaribu Hill, Executive Director, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, FCWA Board Member, said: “We at the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights are located in the Mississippi Delta, where 43% of the population languishes in abject poverty. The majority of the working population are low wage, non-union workers, who do not have adequate healthcare or access to resources that would improve their quality of life. We are profoundly concerned about OSHA’s decision to enact an Emergency Temporary Standard that will only apply to healthcare workers. We understand healthcare workers need these protections, but so do all essential workers. Food processing workers, laundry workers, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, restaurant workers and daycare workers, are among the most impoverished essential workers in our region. 

“Many are forced to work even when they are sick with COVID because they do not have paid sick leave or paid time off. This decision to exclude all other essential workers from coverage under the proposed standard is one that will cause deep divisions among workers and will result in widespread employment discrimination and wrongful exclusion of thousands who need this critical relief that is long overdue. In the interest of fairness and worker justice, we urge you to reconsider and expand the reach of the COVID Emergency Temporary Standard to include all essential and vulnerable workers.” 

Hodaliz Mariana Borrayes, Organizer, Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center, said: “The news that OSHA is only going to create temporary protections for workers in the healthcare industry is alarming. All workers deserve protections, regardless of the industry. This year, workers and families working in the fields, construction, restaurant and many others have been exposed to COVID every day. OSHA standards would benefit all workers, but especially undocumented immigrant workers who are afraid of getting the vaccine, who do not have health insurance to meet their needs, and who could not get federal or state aid either.”

Axel Fuentes, Executive Director, Rural Community Workers Alliance, said: “Government institutions have failed in protecting food chain workers from COVID-19. Food chain workers have been called heroes, but they are treated as disposable.  Thousands of meat processing plant workers were infected with COVID-19, hundreds died and still institutions are still failing to protect workers and to make companies accountable. All workers deserve a safe and healthy place to work.” 

Neza Xiuhtecutli, General Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida, said: “We recognize the danger that healthcare workers face and are glad that they are getting these protections, but excluding farmworkers and other food workers further reinforces the barriers that the most vulnerable workers in society face in being able to take care of themselves and their families. The effects of lack of access to healthcare only make the lack of protections for farmworkers more distressful, as those barriers and being unable to take preemptive care outs them at greater risk of suffering the more adverse effects and complications of COVID-19 that can lead to the more sinister health outcomes or to suffer the long-term sequelae that COVID-19 survivors have been reporting.  It is unconscionable to continue to exclude these workers on whom we depend so much from the protections afforded other workers, highlighting once again the structural racism permeating our food system.”

Anstasia H., a farmworker in Immokalee, FL, said: “It is absurd that farmworkers are not protected. Without farmworkers there is no food in the grocery stores or on tables, and without protections for farmworkers there will be no farmworkers. At the beginning of the pandemic we couldn’t find masks, and we would ride up to ten people in a van, all without masks. Even our supervisor would tell us, ‘Don’t you believe in God?’ You’ll be all right if you believe in God.’ Then I ended up getting [COVID-19]. It’s great that they gave them to doctors and nurses, but if they don’t want food in the stores and on tables, don’t give protections to farmworkers.”

May Day: Food Workers Fight Back

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On MAY DAY we honor and support all workers mobilizing in the form of strikes, rallies, slow-downs, call-outs and other actions throughout the globe. 

In the time of COVID-19 the state and the larger public are finally recognizing the labor of over 22 million workers that keep the food supply chain running. Yet, food workers are still being treated as disposable. Workers throughout this food supply chain are exploited by the #COVID19 crisis & the pre-existing conditions of the profit-driven food economy.  Food workers are organizing to win safe conditions during COVIDs and these fights are sowing the seeds for the power we need to transform the food system in the long run.

On May Day 2020 we support local and global calls for workers to take action and use their power as workers to build a world where the labor of all workers is valued.


Please support these May Day actions organized by FCWA members and other food workers!  And sign on and share FCWA’s demands by sending a letter to Congress today.

Pioneer Valley Workers Center  

May Day Caravan

Holyoke and Springfield, Massachusetts

Come out on International Workers’ Day! We will have two caravans! One at 2PM starting at the Holyoke Mall Sears Parking Lot and one at 4PM in Springfield starting at Brightwood Health Clinic. We will drive together in caravan to a number of stops to to show solidarity with essential workers and lift up workers’ demands in a time of crisis.

Migrant Justice

Primero de Mayo / May Day Car Rally for Essential Workers

Burlington, Vermont

Come out on International Worker’s Day! Meet in the Staples parking lot in Burlington (I-89 14W) and then drive together in caravan to a number of stops to to show solidarity with essential workers and lift up workers’ demands in a time of crisis.

National strike by Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, and FedEx workers! 

Across the country!

Workers across the country will be walking out or calling in sick. Support workers and don’t cross the picket line!

Cooperation Jackson

May Day Caravan

Jackson, MS

Cooperation Jackson is joining the People’s Strike Call to Action, based on our initial call to action issued on March 31st, 2019.

We will be conducting a car caravan to encourage people to protect themselves from the deadly decisions being made by the government and the forces of capital. Join us in demanding #NoWork #NoRent #NoShopping on #MayDay2020


Laundry Workers Center

May Day’s Caravan for Our Lives

New York City

The caravan will show solidarity with working and oppressed people across New York City, especially hospital, transit, grocery & incarcerated workers at the front line of this crisis, and lay the blame where it belongs: at the doorsteps of Trump, DeBlasio, Cuomo and Wall Street.

Laundry Workers Center

May Day Cacerolazo!

New Jersey

ÚNASE A NOSOTROS PARA CACEROLAZO EN NJ! ⁣Este viernes 1 de mayo DIA DE LOS TRABAJADORES a las 2 p.m. estaremos pegando nuestras ollas y sartenes para exigir #Recovery4All.⁣

Farmworker Association of Florida

Caravan to Support Workers/Caravana para apoyar trabajadores

Apopka, Florida

Join a press conference and a caravan of cars to the local nearby hospital to highlight farmworkers and health care workers as “essential workers” in this time of the pandemic crisis.

Federation of Commerce

En santé et sécurité du travail: Solidaires plus que jamais!

Quebec, Canada

Join a webinar to talk about mobilization strategies in regards to worker health and safety in Quebec.

Warehouse Workers for Justice

Songs of Solidarity Virtual Concert

If you missed it the first time we will be rebroadcasting our Songs of Solidarity virtual concert on May Day! You can watch the show via facebook live at the Warehouse Workers For Justice facebook page!

International Labor Rights Forum

International Workers’ Day: Farmworkers Demand Justice in Honduras

On May Day – International Workers’ Day – hear from farmworkers and trade unionists in Honduras who are fighting for justice on the farms of multinational corporation Fyffes, the number one supplier of melons to the U.S. market. Melon pickers are “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic and yet the billion-dollar Fyffes corporation refuses to give them face masks and gloves, and has not implemented any social distancing on overcrowded company buses.

Fair World Project

Tell Fyffes: Melon Pickers Are Not Expendable!

It is high time that Fyffes answer the demands of workers. Send a message to Fyffes today telling them to negotiate in good faith with the workers’ union STAS to sign a legally-binding, enforceable agreement to uphold workers’ rights.

Community to Community Development

Caravan to Olympia for Excluded Farmworkers!

Join us in the capitol on International Worker’s Day to call attention to the state’s negligence of farmworker health and safety. As has happened so often in the past, farmworkers are expected to risk their lives during this crisis to bring food to our tables. Farmworkers are an essential workforce but they continue to be treated as expendable.

#CampesinosEsenciales2020 #MerezcoVivir #ManzanaoMuerte #EssentialFarmworkers2020 #DeserveToLive #ApplesOrDeath

LA Street Vendors

de Mayo Caravana Para Justicia de Vendedores Ambulantes

Los Angeles

Street vendors from across the City are uniting to demand relief NOW, and to uplift a debt free future that supports them in participating in the legal vending program. From the SF Valley to Hollywood, South Central, and East Los Angeles, street vendors will be driving into City Center to demand:

  • Cancelation of Rent and Mortgages
  • NO Criminalization of street vending
  • Cash Assistance for Undocumented Workers
  • Reimbursement of Permit Fees

UFCW Local 770

May Day 2020 – Demand Safety for Essential Grocery Workers

Los Angeles

Essential Workers need your support Come show them solidarity on International Workers Day! This is a drive-through and honk action, please drive in front of Ralphs on Sunset Blvd and Poinsettia (7257 W. Sunset Blvd. LA, CA 90046) anytime between 10:00am to 11:00am and honk or make noise as you drive in front of the store.


Trump is putting workers’ lives at risk in the interest of protecting massive food corporations’ profits

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Tuesday, April 29th – Trump is putting workers’ lives at risk in the interest of protecting massive food corporations’ profits.

President Donald Trump announced that he will use the Defense Production Act to declare meat-processing plants “essential infrastructure,” forcing beef, egg, poultry and pork plants to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the country at least 6,500 meat processing employees have been impacted by the virus, meaning they are either sick or in isolation. A reported 20 food processing workers have died as a result of being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.

Sending workers back into unsafe workplaces without adequate protection is completely unacceptable and will lead to more worker illness and worker deaths. Workers’ health must be a priority over the profits of large food corporations.

In 2019 the Trump administration and USDA already began waiving  regulations limiting meat-processing line speeds, increasing the risk of severe injury, and have continued to grant these waivers as the pandemic rages on.

Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has also failed to ensure workers are protected from the virus and its impacts, refusing to issue mandatory health and safety standards for employers that require companies to protect frontline food chain workers and other workers at risk. With the refusal to issue Emergency Temporary Standards, OSHA has allowed companies to continue to evade responsibility for worker deaths and exposure to illness.

“Sending meatpacking workers back to work without protections and mandatory standards is sending workers to die or to get sick,” says Axel Fuentes of the Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA). RCWA has filed a lawsuit against a Smithfield plant in an effort to force the company to protect workers’ health and safety. “If we have to fight in courts to make only one plant to provide safety equipment to workers, can you imagine what will be required to compel other employers to act?”

The Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) is an alliance of 33 food worker organizations in the food supply chain. “We call on our elected leaders to take steps to protect the health and safety of food processing workers over profits,” says Suzanne Adely, FCWA Co-Director. “We demand that OSHA immediately issue a strong and enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard, and call on Congress to compel OSHA to act in the face of this health and safety and public health emergency.”