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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.”

FCWA AND OUR FARMWORKER MEMBERS CONTINUE TO OPPOSE THE FARM WORKFORCE MODERNIZATION ACT

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FCWA is a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain. In 2019, farmworker members of FCWA opposed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act because we believed it would set dangerous precedents, divide workers, and ultimately make conditions even more difficult for farm workers across the country. 

The FWMA was introduced under the Trump administration and expands the H-2A program without providing necessary oversight or adequate protections, and makes e-verify mandatory for all agriculture employers.  It excludes many workers from a pathway to status, sets up a very long path to finally acquire residency status, and requires farmworkers to continue working in agriculture for up to 8 years to qualify. 

We join with undocumented workers across the country in calling for comprehensive immigration reform in 2021. As part of this reform, we need a broad and expansive vision of farmworker rights. We support President Biden’s goal of providing immediate green cards for farmworkers who have sacrificed so much during COVID to ensure our food security; however, we will continue to strongly oppose any bill that  will create more vulnerable conditions for farmworkers in the workplace. It is not the time to revive legislation crafted under the Trump administration, giving huge concessions to the grower lobby by linking the h2a program to immigration reform. Immigration pathways should not be used to allow for labor exploitation of immigrant workers.   

Our farmworker members have a long history of organizing with farmworkers across the US and Canada. As an Alliance, we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farm workers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize.  FWMA moves us in the opposite direction, and that is why FCWA and our farmworker members continue to oppose this bill.

 


 

FCWA es una coalición de organizaciones de trabajadores cuyos miembros plantan, cosechan, procesan, empacan, transportan, preparan, sirven y venden alimentos, y están organizándose para mejorar los salarios y las condiciones laborales de todos los trabajadores a lo largo de la cadena alimentaria. En 2019, los trabajadores agrícolas miembros de FCWA se opusieron a la Ley de Modernización de la Fuerza Laboral Agrícola (FWMA) porque creíamos que sentaría precedentes peligrosos, dividiría a los trabajadores y, en última instancia, haría que las condiciones fueran aún más difíciles para los trabajadores agrícolas en todo el país.

La FWMA se introdujo bajo la administración de Trump y expande el programa H-2A sin proporcionar la supervisión necesaria ni las protecciones adecuadas, y  hace que la verificación electrónica sea obligatoria para todos los empleadores agrícolas. La FWMA excluye a muchos trabajadores de un camino para estatus legalizado, establece un camino muy largo para obtener el estatus de residencia, y requiere que los trabajadores agrícolas continúen trabajando en la agricultura hasta por 8 años para calificar.

Nos unimos a los trabajadores indocumentados de todo el país para pedir una reforma migratoria integral en 2021. Como parte de esta reforma, necesitamos una visión amplia y expansiva de los derechos de los trabajadores agrícolas.Apoyamos el objetivo del presidente Biden de proporcionar tarjetas verdes inmediatas a los trabajadores agrícolas que han sacrificado tanto durante el COVID para garantizar nuestra seguridad alimentaria; sin embargo, continuaremos oponiéndonos firmemente a cualquier proyecto de ley que cree condiciones más vulnerables para los trabajadores agrícolas en el lugar de trabajo. No es el momento de revivir la legislación elaborada bajo la administración Trump, dando enormes concesiones al lobby de los productores lingo el programa H2A con una reforma migratoria . Las vías de inmigración no deberían utilizarse para permitir la explotación laboral de trabajadores inmigrantes.

Nuestros miembros trabajadores agrícolas tienen una larga historia de organización con trabajadores agrícolas en los EE. UU. Y Canadá. Como coalición, creemos que independientemente de su estatus migratorio, todos los trabajadores agrícolas merecen dignidad, respeto y protección total en el trabajo y en las comunidades en las que residen sus familias. Creemos que nuestro movimiento debe guiarse por esta visión de ampliar el acceso a los derechos y la protección para todos los trabajadores, especialmente el derecho a organizarse. FWMA nos mueve en la dirección opuesta, y es por eso que FCWA y nuestros miembros trabajadores agrícolas continúan oponiéndose a este proyecto de ley.

 

Photo: Farmworker Association of Florida

 

 

NEW Report: WE ARE NOT DISPOSABLE: Food Workers Organizing on the COVID Frontlines

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Today the Food Chain Workers Alliance is launching the report “WE ARE NOT DISPOSABLE: Food Workers Organizing on the COVID Frontlines.” The report documents the devastating and disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on food workers, especially for Black and Latinx workers, and exposes how the pandemic exacerbated long-standing problems for workers in the food sector. It features interviews about and analysis of trends on how workers across the country are organizing in response to the crisis, from launching strikes and walkouts to protesting unsafe conditions, filing lawsuits against mega corporations, fighting for legal protections, demanding hazard pay and excluded worker funds, and forming new unions and worker organizations to build worker power. 

The report outlines trends in worker experiences at each step of the food chain and across industries–from farms to processing plants, warehouses, restaurants, retail storefronts, and more. Food workers have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to provide essential services as cases surged.

“We went on strike because the company didn’t care to give us basic protections, and kept exposing us to get sick or die. For weeks we demanded the company to allow us to socially distance by not ending the staggered shift program to reduce the numbers of workers coming in contact with each other. Even though the company reinstated the program after the strike, we know the fight is not over, we will keep fighting until we are treated with dignity.” 

— George’s poultry worker in Springdale, Arkansas

“We worked through the virus, we wore masks but we still started to get sick. We continued to work with what started as a headache and other symptoms of COVID-19. Three weeks later, with pain and fever, the employer of the company said that all workers had to take tests for the coronavirus. The results came out positive. Then the boss said we couldn’t work, and he sent three of us home to be quarantined. We were afraid to seek more medical support, we had to use home remedies to combat pain and cure ourselves. We were alone, only people who sent food came to drop off the food and left. It is unfair—we have to have better protection because we could have avoided this situation. We are still human beings and we deserve to be protected!”

— Erika, apple packing worker, Oswego County, New York

I make about $1,000 a month with sales. Not enough to pay the rent, definitely not enough to catch up with previous payments. The city hasn’t helped, the government hasn’t helped. I don’t qualify for one cent from the stimulus packages. I’m undocumented, we don’t qualify for anything. There’s an eviction moratorium that lasts until March 2021. I’m scared that when it is gone we will get kicked out, and I can’t even get another apartment. Where would I go? I don’t have job security as sales vary day to day. What will help is rent forgiveness, as I don’t see myself catching up.

Sonia, street vendor in New York City 

“I feel very strongly that we need more than just the gains we might earn under what basically feels like plague time. Caribou workers deserve to have family leave…we deserve to have higher pay. We deserve to have sick and safe time across the board. There are so many things that we as workers have realized that we deserve and we’re not getting…there are things that I do love about my job that have led me to stick around. Thanks to organizing, I think I’m even more motivated to stay involved., I have a lot of faith we can build something better for ourselves. “

— Lux, Caribou worker in Minneapolis, Minnesota 

“Employees are supposed to come first. After what I saw, you’re telling me my safety isn’t important and your profit is.” 

— Mark, Mars Candy warehouse worker in Joliet, Illinois

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Hoy la Alianza de Trabajadores de la Cadena de Alimentos está lanzando el reporte: “NO SOMOS DESECHABLES: Trabajadores de alimentos organizandose frente a COVID.”  El reporte documenta los devastadores y desproporcionados impactos de COVID-19 en los trabajadores en la cadena alimenticia, especialmente para los trabajadores Negros y Latinxs, y expone como la pandemia ha exacerbado los problemas que vienen desde antes para los trabajadores en el sector de alimentos. El reporte cuenta con entrevistas y análisis sobre las tendencias de cómo los trabajadores alrededor del país se están organizando en respuesta a la crisis, desde el lanzamiento de una huelga y paros hasta protestar por condiciones peligrosas, presentando demandas contra mega corporaciones, peleando por protecciones legales, exigiendo pago por trabajo peligroso y fondos para trabajadores excluidos, y formando nuevos sindicatos y organizaciones de trabajadores para construir poder. 

El reporte describe las tendencias en las experiencias de trabajo en cada paso de la cadena de alimentos a través de las industrias—desde granjas hasta las plantas de procesamiento, almacenes, restaurantes, tiendas, y más. Los trabajadores de alimentos han estado en la primera línea de la pandemia de COVID-19, proveyendo servicios esenciales mientras los casos aumentaban. 

“Entramos en huelga porque a la compañía no le importó darnos protecciones básicas, y siguió exponiendonos para qué nos enfermamos o nos muriéramos. Por semanas le exigimos a que la compañía nos dejara seguir el distanciamiento social a través de no terminar el programa de horarios escalonados para reducir el número de trabajadores que tuvieran contacto con sí mismos. Aunque la compañía restituyo el programa después de la huelga, sabemos que la pelea no se ha terminado, seguiremos peleando hasta que nos traten con dignidad.” 

  — Trabajador de avicultura de George en Springdale, Arkansas 

“Trabajamos durante el virus, usamos máscaras pero todavía así nos empezamos a enfermar. Continuamos trabajando con lo que empezó como una fiebre y otros síntomas de COVID-19.  Tres semanas después, con dolor y fiebre, la compañía dijo que todos los trabajadores tenían que tomar el examen del coronavirus. El resultado salió positivo. Luego el patrón dijo que no podíamos trabajar, y envió a tres de nosotros a la casa para estar en cuarentena. Teníamos miedo de conseguir ayuda médica, tuvimos que usar remedios caseros para combatir el dolor y para curarnos. Estuvimos solos, solamente las personas que nos mandaban comida podían dejar la comida y luego se iban. Es injusto—tenemos que tener mejor protección porque hubiéramos podido prevenir esta situación. ¡Somos seres humanos y merecemos ser protegidos!”

— Erika, trabajadora de empaque de manzanas, Condado de Oswego, Nueva York 

Yo hago como $1,000 al mes en ventas. No es lo suficiente para pagar el alquiler, definitivamente no es lo suficiente para ponerse al día con los pagos. La ciudad no nos ha ayudado, el gobierno no nos ha ayudado. No califico ni un centavo para el paquete de estímulo. Soy indocumentada, y nosotras no calificamos para nada. Hay una moratoria de alquiler hasta marzo  2021. Me da miedo de que cuando esto acabe me echarán, y no podré conseguir otro apartamento. ¿A dónde iré? No tengo un trabajo seguro ya que las ventas varían de día a día. Me ayudaría el perdón del alquiler ya que no veo cómo me podría poner al día con los pagos. 

Sonia, vendedora ambulante en la Ciudad de Nueva York 

Siento muy fuertemente que necesitamos más que las ganancias que podríamos ganar bajo lo que básicamente se siente como un tiempo de plaga. Los trabajadores de Caribou merecen tener el tiempo pagado para cuidar a sus familiares…merecemos un salario más alto. Merecemos tener tiempo pagado y asegurado por enfermedad para todos. Hay tantas cosas que como trabajadores nos hemos dado cuenta que necesitamos pero que no tenemos…estas son cosas que amo de mi trabajo las cuales me han hecho quedarme. Gracias al hecho de que organizamos, me he quedado. Tengo mucha fe de que podemos construir algo mejor para nosotras mismas. 

— Lux, trabajadora de Caribou en Minneapolis, Minnesota 

“Los empleados supuestamente tienen que ser prioridad. Después de lo que vi, usted me está diciendo que mi seguridad no es importante y que su ganancia si lo es.” 

— Mark, trabajador de la empacadora Mars Candy en Joliet, Illinois

COVID Jungle Report Exposes Dangerous Working Conditions Inside of Chicagoland’s Food Production and Warehouse Facilities

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Today a team of worker justice organizations are releasing The COVID Jungle: Chicagoland’s Essential Food Workers and the Need for Vaccination Priority. Chicagoland is home to the country’s second largest food economy. Food production and warehousing in it’s suburbs make up a who’s who of major food corporations including Mars Wrigley, Kellogg, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Skinny Pops, McDonalds and more. This first-of-its-kind report shows how essential food workers, who have made quarantining possible during the pandemic, could be overlooked for life-saving vaccine priority because they’re temporary workers. The report is a result of 90 worker interviews in food production, distribution, and logistics currently working in the Chicago area throughout the pandemic, and includes first-hand worker testimonies.

Today, Illinois is one of the most crucial production, logistics and distribution hubs for food products in the United States with over 2,600 food manufacturers alone. Major outbreaks in Illinois’ factories and warehouses have been an ongoing problem and are second only to nursing homes.

“We don’t want to see any more workers’ lives lost or more people get sick because temp workers on the front lines of the pandemic are placed at the end of the line for the vaccine,” said Sophia Zaman, Executive Director of the Raise the Floor Alliance. “Our report is intended to uplift the stories and sacrifices of the food workers who have allowed us to stay at home during this terrible time. They need to be prioritized, which includes the staffing agency workers.”

The report is developed by Warehouse Workers for Justice and Chicago Workers Collaborative in partnership with Temp Worker Justice, Raise the Floor, Food Chain Workers Alliance, and Partners for Dignity and Respect.

PRESS CONTACTS

Primary: Roberto Clack, Associate Director, 312.450.1972, roberto@warehouseworker.org

Based in Joliet, Illinois, Warehouse Workers for Justice is a worker center fighting for stable, living-wage jobs in warehouses and distribution centers. We educate workers about labor rights, teach folks how to enforce their rights, organize in the workplace and community and fight for public and private policies that promote full-time work at decent wages in the warehouse industry.

The Chicago Workers Collaborative promotes the creation of stable, living-wage jobs with racial and gender equity for 680,000 temporary workers in the state of Illinois.

Artwork: Aaron Hughes of the Just Seeds Collective

Food Worker Organizing will Point the Way Forward

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As we look ahead past the 2020 elections we remain focused on the urgent needs facing food workers in this moment. Food worker exploitation is deeply set into U.S. laws and structures, and there is a long fight ahead to ensure economic and social justice for all workers. We know that worker leadership, creativity, and solidarity will point the way forward. We take inspiration from ongoing food worker organizing during the pandemic — from farmworkers, packing house workers, warehouse workers, restaurant workers and more demanding health and safety protections, to excluded workers across the country demanding inclusion in benefits. 

When we see the extent to which massive corporations will go to suppress worker organizing and avoid even basic protections — like the millions poured into Prop 22 by gig economy employers in California — we know that supporting worker organizing is more critical than ever.

It is unconscionable that 7 months into a deadly pandemic there are still no mandatory national health and safety protections, no federal pandemic relief for millions of excluded workers, and no premium pay for those working in hazardous conditions. Food workers, and other workers across this country urgently need action. We call on Congress and a Biden administration to enact these emergency measures immediately. 

Going forward, we call for a broad and expansive workers rights agenda that lifts up workers’ right to organize, health and safety, migrant and racial justice. This agenda must be guided by and grounded in the organizing and demands of Black, Indigenous and workers of color. We stand in solidarity with food workers around the country fighting for safe workplaces and power to shape our working conditions and our lives.

“Forming and growing the power of food worker unions is a literal survival fight for workers of color.” @brandworkers

Photo: Warehouse Workers for Justice. Warehouse workers demand basic protections and respect without the fear of retaliation for speaking up outside candy giant Mars/Wrigley headquarters.

 

FCWA joins civil rights complaint challenging meat processing corporations

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Black, Latino, and Asian slaughterhouse workers suffered disproportionately as the meat industry scrambled to respond to COVID-19. Now, they’re demanding justice.

Food Chain Workers Alliance and Rural Community Workers Alliance, along with several allies advocating for meat processing workers, filed an administrative civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 8 alleging that two major meat processing corporations have engaged in racial discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act through their workplace policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint alleges that megacorporations Tyson and JBS have adopted policies that reject critical Centers for Disease Control guidance – social distancing on meat processing lines – to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their processing facilities and that the results of their current operating procedures have a discriminatory impact on the predominantly Black, Latino and Asian workforce at the companies’ plants.

These policies that endanger workers are a deliberate choice by companies to put profit over the lives of workers and their communities – and the demographics of their workforce is no secret to them. An unacceptable number of workers have become sick. If JBS and Tyson will not prioritize the safety of their Black, Latino, and Asian workers, USDA must enforce our basic civil rights laws.

 FCWA Member Rural Community Workers Alliance joined the complaint.

“Over a decade RCWA has been listening to thousands of stories from meat processing plant workers about poor working conditions and labor injustices,” says Axel Fuentes, director of Rural Community Workers Alliance

“During COVID-19 once again the meat industry discriminates against their workers which in most cases are people of color in their plants and are not allowing them to have a physical distancing to prevent spreading the virus, while their corporate officers and managers, who are mostly white, can either work from home or safely practice distancing on the job.”

The administrative complaint is filed with the USDA, because each of these megacorporations received significant sums of public contracts through USDA. It is also imperative that Congress act to ensure that OSHA does the job it was created to do and issue enforceable standards to protect all workers.

 Take Action

  • Sign our petition urging Congress to act to protect all workers and compel OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard
  • Stand with poultry workers organizing for increased protections. Sign Venceremos’s letter calling on Governor Asa Hutchinson to protect workers by ordering the shutdown of meat processing plants in Arkansas where workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

News Round Up

Washington Post

NYT

The Hill

Bloomberg Law

JS Online

Green Bay Press Gazette

5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT FOOD WORKERS

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Food workers are still on the job throughout every sector of the food supply chain, providing essential services for the public in this moment of crisis and every day. Yet while corporations are profiting off this crisis, food workers are on the front lines facing dangerous working conditions, a loss of wages, and a lack of access to healthcare.

Here are 5 things you can do to support food workers NOW:

  1. CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO ACT to ensure sick days, healthcare, worker protections, and income for all workers.Sign our petition here.
  1. DEMAND BIG FOOD CORPORATIONS provide sick pay, hazard pay, family leave, and respect the right to organize. Here are just a few petitions started by food workers and food worker organizations:
  1. SUPPORT FOOD WORKER ORGANIZING 
  1. DONATE TO DIRECT NEEDS, FOOD WORKER FUNDS 

5. SUPPORT AND SHARE RESOURCES with food workers in your community

Thank you for supporting food worker organizing!

What food workers on the front lines need RIGHT NOW

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Food workers who serve, deliver, distribute, process and harvest our food are doing critical work in this moment of crisis and everyday. Food workers are still on the job throughout the food chain. Every aspect of the food supply chain are essential services for the public and recognized as such in many government orders. This is highlighting what food workers have been saying for years — our work makes it possible for the world to eat.

Yet, food workers on the front line are facing dangerous working conditions, a loss of wages, and a lack of access to healthcare, while many corporations are profiting off this crisis. Urgent action is needed by all levels of government to protect food workers and not just big business, now and in the long-term. 

HEALTH & SAFETY OF WORKERS MUST BE A PRIORITY 

Even with the enormous job loss taking place, food workers around the country are still working shoulder to shoulder on food processing lines and in warehouses, farmworkers are still planting and harvesting food, food workers are delivering food. Many food workers in rural and urban areas are going to work with no instructions on how to keep themselves safe and without adequate protective gear.

  • Employers must provide workers with accurate and current information on how to protect themselves and their communities from the virus in a language they understand, that is culturally appropriate, and at a literacy level that is appropriate. 
  • Employers must guarantee safe workplaces, including providing all necessary protective equipment, frequent and regular hand-washing breaks, and the required space for “social distancing.”  Farmworkers must be provided easy access to clean and a sufficient amount of water at close proximity to the work site.
  • The same health & safety information and protective equipment must be given to workers in crowded and substandard employer-provided housing.
  • OSHA must issue an emergency standard for infectious diseases to ensure that workers will be protected from all infectious diseases in their workplaces, including COVID-19.

FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS 

We also recognize that this is a time of great disruption to the lives of working people. Workers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of themselves and their families. 

  • All workers must have access to free testing, healthcare coverage, and paid sick days regardless of status and size of workplace, including workers in the US and Canada country on H-2A or migrant worker visas.
  • A minimum of 15 paid sick days per year leave for all workers regardless of size of workplace, and additional paid leave for all workers. 
  • Additional paid sick days for all workers when there is a public health emergency.
  • H-2A workers that are currently working in the US (and migrant workers working under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada) and who become ill must be assured not only free health care, but  with no penalties for inability to complete a contract due to the illness. They must be provided all important information about safety and security relative to their safe transportation back to their home country. Guestworkers awaiting arrival in the U.S. and Canada to begin work, must be provided all relevant information regarding health and safety protections and measures. 
  • Workers should be afforded Paid Family Leave as needed 
  • Workers in industries like retail, warehousing and distribution, delivery, that are expanding their hours and work during this time should make overtime voluntary, and guarantee overtime pay.
  • All food workers continuing to provide essential services should be entitled to receive hazard pay, at a premium of time and a half. 

SUPPORT WORKERS FACING JOB LOSS & WAGE LOSS 

For millions of workers, including food workers, there is enormous job and wage loss. With the majority of food workers already living paycheck to paycheck with low wages, this presents an immediate and long-term crisis. Restaurant workers, reliant on tips to survive, are now facing the financial repercussions of business closings or operating only on take-out. 

At the same time, workers need the ability to stop working due to safety concerns, the need to care for family members, or their own health, and still get paid regardless of their immigration status or job classification, now and for the many months this crisis may last. Federal, state and local governments must ensure that workers receive the supplemental income they need in the form of: 

  • Expanded access to unemployment insurance regardless of immigration or employment status through a clear and easy process. 
  • Cash grants and other subsidies must be offered to workers facing wage loss, with clear and easy access, covering full replacement of wages, and regardless of employment or immigration status.
  • We also support the call to offer monthly cash payments to all U.S. Households to support workers and their families during this crisis. 
  • We also support the call for cash grants and other financial assistance to support small businesses from street vendors, to bodegas, to local eateries.
  • Immediate Moratorium on rent, mortgage payments, loan payments, and no utility shut offs. NO MORE DEBT
  • Immediate Moratorium on the Public Charge Rule which would disqualify immigrants who use public assistance from obtaining permanent residency status. 

*All corporations in the food economy who will continue to profit in the millions, billions and trillions should continue to pay their workers during this time of wage loss. The government should make it a condition of any bail-outs to businesses that the company continues to pay workers throughout the crisis.

IMMIGRATION & UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS 

First and foremost, ALL OF THESE BENEFITS MUST BE MADE AVAILABLE TO ALL WORKERS REGARDLESS OF STATUS! We also call for:

  • An Immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement, including repatriations and deportations of guest workers and non-status migrants  
  • An Immediate release of all immigration detainees from detention centers and detention camps and adequate health services for all. 
  • A removal of restrictions on work permits for guest workers and migrant workers who have been laid off or terminated  

STREET VENDORS 

Street vendors are generally not eligible for state-sponsored benefits or support like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, or even small business relief funds. For workers in informal economies, this is a dire situation, leaving many with fear and confusion as to how they will support themselves and their families in the days, weeks and months to come. These low-wage immigrant workers rely on busy streets in order to survive day to day. Without a safety net to fall back on, they are forced to continue to work, with little returns, and risking their health and wellbeing in the process. We join Street Vendors in New York City and elsewhere calling for:

  • Waiving all late penalties for late tax filings   
  • Immediate suspension of city and state enforcement of street vendor compliance violations – regardless of whether the vendor has a permit or a license.   
  • Waiver of outstanding tickets issued since January 2020, as vendors won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future.   
  • Create and expand granting opportunities for low-income sole proprietors for street vendors and other small business 
  • Ensure street vendors and delivery workers are included in city child care plan for frontline workers   
  • Ensure workers who are employed by food cart or truck owners, including undocumented workers, are eligible for unemployment insurance and any forthcoming emergency relief funds 

 

RIGHT TO ORGANIZE

This moment is illuminating what is always true, that the food industry is one of the most exploitative industries in the world and food workers are too often treated as disposable. 

We must demand: 

  • An expansion of protection of the right to organize, enabling food workers to meaningfully exercise their labor rights, to protect themselves and their communities. 

 

 

 

FOOD WORKERS ON THE FRONT LINE OF PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS NEED URGENT PROTECTIONS

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Food workers are on the front line of the current public health crisis and the resulting economic crisis surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, along with other precarious workers. Food workers who serve, deliver, distribute, process and harvest our food are doing critical work and are not in a position to follow public health guidance to work from home or maintain social distance, and are very unlikely to have access to paid sick days.

The pandemic is illustrating how strong social safety nets, workplace protections, and public health measures benefit everyone. We know that food workers who don’t have paid sick days and cannot count on other workplace protections, potentially put consumers at risk when they are forced to come to work when they are ill.

Furthermore, many food workers are already working in dangerous and low-paid jobs, or, like restaurant workers, reliant on tips to survive and now facing the financial repercussions of slow business and numerous cancelled events. Food workers who deliver food or groceries through the gig economy are often misclassified as independent contractors and frequently do not have access to workplace protections, paid sick days, or unemployment insurance. The broken healthcare system in the US means many food workers do not have access to health insurance and quality healthcare. For farmworkers who work seasonally, there may be no work to go back to by the time the crisis lifts. 

Data shows that workers of color are far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than white workers, meaning the impact of this crisis on them and their families is likely to be greater.  

In the supply chains of multinational corporations around the world, workers are producing food destined for supermarkets and restaurants in our communities. From melon workers in Honduras to seafood industry workers in Thailand, many of these workers are denied their internationally-recognized rights to freedom of association, which makes it all the harder for them to raise their voices when they do not have paid sick leave.

FCWA members, and other food workers nationally, are lifting up and winning important demands in this critical moment. 

It is urgent that all levels of government act quickly to ensure that food workers and all workers are guaranteed:

  • A minimum of 15 paid sick days per year leave for all workers regardless of size of workplace, and additional paid leave for all workers
  • Additional paid sick days for all workers when there is a public health emergency.
  • Safe workplaces and fair working conditions, including adequate safety equipment for workers free of charge.
  • The protection and expansion of the right to organize, enabling food workers to meaningfully exercise their labor rights
  • Access to an emergency fund for those who are experiencing a loss or interruption of earnings, regardless of immigration status 
  • Access to unemployment insurance regardless of immigration or employment status 
  • Healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status
  • A halt on evictions and utility shut-offs
  • Immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement, including repatriations and deportations of guest workers and non-status migrants   
  • A removal of restrictions on work permits for guest workers and migrant workers who have been laid off or terminated 
  • Special supports for workers in crowded and substandard employer-provided housing
  • Financial support for small businesses who experience hardship as a result of the public health crisis.

Further resources: 

 

Photo: United Workers

FCWA STANDS WITH FARMWORKER MEMBERS IN OPPOSING THE FARM WORKFORCE MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2019

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Photo: Farmworker Association of Florida

The FCWA opposes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act because we believe it will set dangerous precedents, divide workers, and ultimately make conditions even more difficult for farmworkers across the country.

Please help us make sure the Farm Workforce Modernization Act does not become law and sign and share our petition urging representatives to oppose the bill.


 

On November 12, 2019, H.R. 5038 – The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 was introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren of California. The bill introduces a process for farmworkers to access permanent residency status and also amends regulations for workers who work in agriculture under the H-2A program.

The Bill passed in the House by a vote of 260-165 on December 11, 2019. It was received in the Senate on December 12, 2019 and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Senate committee hearings have not yet been scheduled.

Many of our farmworker members have a long history of organizing with farmworkers across the US and Canada and supporting workers to improve their wages and working conditions. As an Alliance, we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farmworkers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize. 

This bill moves in the opposite direction. It does not include the right to organize for farmworkers. It excludes many workers from “blue card” status, sets up a very long path to get residency status, and requires farmworkers to continue working in agriculture for up to 8 years to qualify. It expands the H-2A program without providing necessary oversight or adequate protections, and will serve to further divide farm workers against one another based on their immigration status. Many of our farmworker members have the following critiques of the bill:

PATH TO LEGAL STATUS IS LIMITED, COMPLEX AND EXCLUDES MANY CURRENT FARMWORKERS

The bill introduces a complicated process to access residency status that will exclude many current farmworkers and their families. For those workers who would be eligible, the bill requires workers to continue working for a long period (up to 8 more years) in agriculture to qualify. 

THE BILL EXPANDS A FLAWED H-2A PROGRAM 

Many of our farmworker members organize with guestworkers or are seeing increasing numbers of guestworkers enter their regions and sectors and with that an increase in exploitation for both H-2A workers and domestic workers. H-2A workers’ immigration status is tied to one employer and workers are isolated in rural farming locations with little access to support, making it much more challenging to speak out about exploitation. Furthermore, workers in the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program have often paid significant sums to recruiters to obtain jobs, visas, and transportation. This current legislation does not jointly hold employers and recruiters liable for violations. When H-2A workers do report violations, they often face retaliation, including repatriation to their home countries. Despite this, we have seen many H-2A workers and guestworkers courageously come together to expose wage theft, health and safety violations, and other issues in their workplaces. 

The bill as negotiated increases some limited protections for H-2A workers, but it also weakens other hard fought protections that are already in place, such as a 1-year freeze of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate. As negotiated, the current bill expands an exploitative program without the serious overhaul and oversight of the program that is needed. We believe we should strongly oppose employers using immigration laws to exploit and divide workers. Both guest workers and undocumented workers should have access to permanent status. 

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives added a rider (section 533) to an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (H.R. 3931) that if approved would expand the H-2A program to year-round work, with no reforms made to the program. This is a direct response to lobbying from agricultural employers, especially the dairy industry, who for years have been pushing for expansion of the program. Some advocates are suggesting that H.R. 5038 would counteract and replace this harmful rider. It is our view that H.R. 5038 is simply not strong enough to do so and we should oppose any legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions. 

The current proposed changes only reinforce the significant power imbalance between employers and workers. We strongly stand against any system of indentured servitude and believe all agricultural labourers should be treated with fairness and dignity and no worker should be disposable to serve the interests of the agricultural industry. 

REQUIRING E-VERIFY IN AGRICULTURE WILL HURT FARMWORKERS AND SETS UP A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. For most employers, E-Verify is voluntary and currently, there are no entire industries that are required under law to use E-Verify.  E-Verify unduly places a heavier burden on workers than on growers to comply and leaves workers vulnerable to fraud. We strongly oppose the collection of data that could one day be used to criminalize workers. Beyond the incredibly harmful impact this will have on farmworkers, granting this concession sets up a very harmful precedent for other immigration reform measures in the future. 

INJURED FARMWORKERS ARE EXCLUDED

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries for workers, yet this bill will exclude the hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers who have been injured on the job and who will therefore not qualify for residency status. While the bill contains some language regarding workplace safety and prevention of sexual harassment, there is no mechanism or funding in place for tracking and enforcement, nor is there any language around provision of healthcare. The bill does not address how guestworkers are often repatriated and blacklisted after they are injured. 

Finally, as our members have noted, there is no provision for the right to strike, the right to join a union, or the right to bargain collectively as a counterbalance to employers’ control over workers. 

For all of these reasons, the FCWA opposes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. We call on our allies to join us in taking action to ensure this bill does not pass. 

  1. Sign and share our petition urging representatives to oppose FWMA.
  2. Share our message that #FarmworkersDeserveBetter in your networks.

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Download the FCWA’s full statement on FWMA here:

Read statement’s from our members and from other allies on the harmful impact of FWMA:

CATA

Community to Community Development

Familias Unidas por la Justicia

Farmworker Association of Florida

UFCW

 

 

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