Woodburn, Oregon – PCUN, Oregon’s farmworkers union has been activating Latinx immigrant workers to take action against exploitative working conditions since 1985. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused much strife in the lives of Oregonians, and its important to take a deeper look at how workers who are most vulnerable to disruptions due to their seasonal nature, contractors, and temporary labor – especially those who are keeping Oregon’s $50 billion dollar industry working. (includes total sales, and food processing)
Major concerns on the part of farm labor, and workers at canneries, and processing plants are real – and due to the lack of worker protections, and benefits, in addition to the amount of people power that comes from the immigrant community in this sector – there are many worries on the minds of these workers, on top of the pandemic.
Immediate actions that can be taken today by government entities, and the industry today to keep our workers, communities, and food supply chain safe includes:
- Additional training and protocols by employers, and supervisors giving direct instructions to workers onsite that prioritize sanitation, increase disinfection requirements, social distancing, and honoring a workers need to quarantine without fear of retaliation.
- Sick days and leave expansion for farmworkers, and food processing workers
- Cash assistance for individuals who do not qualify for paid sick leave, and needing to self quarantine for 14 days. We believe this can be done through Unemployment Insurance, and Worker Compensation expanding it to include all employers no matter the size of the employer, as well as waiving wait time. This also includes for Black, Indigenous and People of Color-based small businesses and their respective employees
- Job protection, anti- retaliation protections, and cash assistance for workers over 60 y/o (increasingly aging workforce), additional precautions for workers who are high risk; additional protections for H2A workers (seeing more of these in the fields)
- Taking into consideration the logistical challenges of quarantining workers that live in housing on worksites, and housing with multiple families. Creating avenues and funds for special accommodations for quarantine workers to prioritize health and containment.
- Ensure nutrition programs are still available for children and students despite school closures, and program cancellations. And childcare assistance for parents.
- Timely, trusted, and non-sensationalized multilingual information that is easily shared on communications outlets most utilized by immigrant, and non-English speaking community members: Radio, Univision, Facebook posts in multiple languages
- Ensuring all workers, small BIPOC business owners, and community members (no matter their documentation status) can access services, especially health services.
- Resource migrant clinics in urban and rural Oregon adequately respond to the influx of patients due to COVID-19 and ensure that testing and healthcare is accessible to all workers – no matter their immigration status.
- Resources for farmworker housing and employers to bring in professionals to do “deep-cleaning” of facilities.
- Employers cutting hours or doing layoffs – ensure all workers despite immigration status qualify for Unemployment Insurance, and Stimulus Packages. Removing any barriers for undocumented workers accessing unemployment, and other cash assistance.
Additional pieces that affect all working Latinx families:
- Rent forgiveness, utility freezes and moratorium of evictions.
- Supporting homeless workers by getting a contingency plan that can house workers who rely on shelters.
- Funding for organizations serving the most vulnerable The state government set-up an emergency fund for non-profit organizations of the state serving immigrants, refugees, day laborers, farmworkers, and people of color to support their capacity in mitigating the community impacts of COVID-19 and providing culturally-relevant education and resources.
- Farmworkers and other sectors of work are of mixed immigration status, all detentions, and ICE holds should end to reduce confinement of workers in close quarters, and to decrease the criminalization of immigrants and people of color.
- Create a grant program providing funds for small businesses owned by black, indigenous, people of color with fewer than 50 employees who see loss of profits due to COVID-19. Provide commercial rent relief and utility freezes during the duration of the administrative closure.
- Ensuring people have access to basic necessities like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and transportation
Employers and the state must take the threats seriously and keep workers informed about essential next steps to keeping our workers, communities, and the food supply chain safe.