( File photo )

More than 30 produce industry organizations are asking Congress for more resources for growers to protect their workforce against COVID-19.

In a letter to Congress, the coalition of industry groups, including Western Growers, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Produce Marketing Association and many more, asked lawmakers to include several measures in the next COVID-19 stimulus legislation:

  • Access to additional testing for farmworkers;
  • Priority access to personal protective equipment;
  • Access to a vaccine and/or medicines as they become available; and 
  • Funding to quarantine workers with COVID-19 and isolate others who have been exposed to those who tested positive.

“Some farms have been fortunate to find available tests, and are paying for their workers to be tested —but in rural parts of the country, finding tests for potentially hundreds of workers can be very difficult, and testing results are often long-delayed,” according to the letter.

The expense of widespread and frequent re-testing is beyond the financial reach of many farms, and quarantine measures add to the cost.

“It is cost-prohibitive for many farms to provide 14 days of isolation/quarantine lodging, which in many cases is stretching beyond that period as testing and lab results are badly delayed,” the letter said.

The industry has suffered billions in losses during the pandemic, and those losses are ongoing, the letter said.

“Some local and state governments are stepping in to provide financial assistance to protect agriculture workers from COVID-19, but such support has been limited and sporadic, which is why additional financial backing from the federal government is necessary,” according to the letter. 

While some federal program have given aid to growers, the letter said those programs reimburse only “pennies on the dollar.”

“More assistance will be required to help farmers overcome the unique challenges agriculture faces in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19,’ the letter said.

The Grower Shipper Association of Central California has partnered with the health clinic Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas to provide expedited test results for farm workers allowing healthy employees to return to their families and jobs more quickly.

GSA and the health clinic developed this new program that prioritizes testing for agricultural employees, which under normal circumstances can take six days.

“Farm workers have two weeks of paid sick time; however, it is still frustrating and unsettling for them to quarantine for so many days while awaiting test results,” Chris Valadez, president of the association, said in the release.

“For farm employers, the long wait times for results meant that harvesting could be potentially slowed or disrupted due to diminishing numbers within a crew.” The clinic supplies the staff to conduct the testing for farm workers and all test results are reported to the local health department.

Legal challenge and UFW expresses resistance

Testing of farm workers is in the news throughout the country.

A southwest Michigan blueberry farm and other parties are suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services over an order requiring testing of migrant employees. 

A report on woodtv.com said the plaintiffs argue that the Aug. 3 order requiring that migrant housing operators test everyone at their facilities starting Aug. 24 is “patently discriminatory” because it focuses on Latino people. The lawsuit says workers fear the results of testing will affect their housing and that those workers might quit if they are subjected to mandatory testing, according to the report.

The United Farm Workers and its affiliated foundation sent a letter Aug. 13 urging Congress to oppose corporate immunity proposals for any stimulus package Congress considers.

“To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the agricultural sector and rural communities and to ensure worker health, farmworkers must have guaranteed access to paid sick leave in addition to job security, personal protective equipment and worksites that are complying with CDC recommendations,” the UFW said in the letter. “If the administration’s utter failure to protect workers is combined with legislative action to insulate companies from workplace liability, employers will have carte blanche to operate based on their bottom line, rather than the well-being of their employees and communities.”


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