The Covid-19 pandemic – worsened by the Trump administration’s woefully anemic response – has taken the lives of more than 300 food and farm workers and sickened tens of thousands more, turning the nation’s food-processing plants and farms into virus hot spots.
Where Farmworkers Face High Covid-19 Risk
Working conditions make food and farm workers especially vulnerable to Covid-19. So what should the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden do to protect them? Here are six things the new administration must do quickly.
1. Immediately issue emergency protective standards to require food and farm employers to protect their workers from Covid-19.
Trump has refused to protect workers, instead issuing an executive order to protect employers from liability when their negligence endangers their employees. Some states have acted, but most have not. And now, some legislators are proposing to make food and farm employers immune from liability when they fail to protect their workers.
2. Make sure food and farm workers are first in line for vaccines, once they are approved.
As more and more workers become sick during the current Covid-19 surge, food supply chains could quickly unravel, sending food prices spiking and increasing the number of Americans who struggle with hunger. The Biden administration must recognize that food and farm workers are essential workers.
3. Immediately shut down Trump’s farmer bailout programs and redirect the funds so that they protect food and farm workers.
The tens of billions of dollars meant to relieve the effects of Trump’s trade wars have not only flowed disproportionately to the largest and most successful farms but have also largely bypassed the smaller farms that have struggled to keep their workers safe from Covid-19. Biden should instead use emergency funds to provide food and farm workers with personal protective equipment and safe housing and transportation.
4. Ensure that food and farm workers get compensated for the risks they take to feed us.
Rather than provide food and farm workers hazard pay, the Trump administration has actually sought to cut farmworker wages and to strip away what few protections they do have by changing labor rules. The Biden administration should rescind Trump’s proposals to cut farmworker wages and instead ensure that food and farm workers receive sick pay when they get sick from Covid-19. Biden has also pledged to support a $15 minimum wage and measures that will make it easier for workers to organize, including farmworkers.
5. Demand that Congress pass legislation giving undocumented farmworkers and their families the opportunity for permanent resident status and U.S. citizenship.
According to the advocacy group Farmworker Justice, at least half of the nation’s roughly 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. Meaningful immigration reform must provide them with protection from deportation and a path to full citizenship. The new administration should also press Congress to fix the programs that bring temporary farmworkers to the U.S.
6. Strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard.
The Trump administration continues to weaken environmental health protections for farmworkers. The Biden administration should make it a priority to protect farmworkers from pesticides. It should immediately ban toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to brain damage.
Farm and food workers are working long hours, at enormous personal risk, to feed us. The Biden administration must make every effort to protect these essential workers and recognize the critical contributions they make to our nation. Food and farm workers have always taken care of us – now we must take care of them.