Monday, November 09, 2020
Some farmworkers, with little or no financial security, must decide whether to keep working or risk dangerous infection
The Trump administration declared farm laborers "essential workers" in the spring, but hasn't provided much guidance on how to keep them from getting sick or spreading the infection to others, and that has forced some of them to make tough choices between working and risking infection, Frank Hernandez reports for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
"While some people work from home during the covid-19 pandemic, agricultural workers pick and pack the fruits and vegetables Americans rely on," Hernandez writes. "They do so in potentially dangerous conditions — they often live in cramped housing, ride in crowded buses to job sites and work close to others — and without the federal government guaranteeing coronavirus protections,"
Some counties and "states such as Virginia, Oregon and Washington have created their own enforceable rules to control, prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus among farmworkers," Hernandez reports. "But federal mandates are necessary to ensure that employers are doing enough to protect workers, advocates said."
At least 16 farmworkers have died from covid-19, but there could be many more because of weak monitoring. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't keep track of covid-19 reports involving agricultural workers, who are mostly migrants with temporary H-2A visas. But OSHA does track such complaints from farm-labor contractors who hire such workers and transport them to job sites, Hernandez reports.
"As of Sept. 6, OSHA has closed nine complaints about covid-19 that involve farm-labor contractors," Hernandez reports. "Twelve complaints about farm-labor contractors remain open. There have also been two COVID-19 complaints related to migrant camps, where some workers live; one has been closed."
Among farmworkers, the virus has disproportionately hit Latinos, who make up more than 60 percent of farm labor. About three-quarters of the nation's 3 million farmworkers were foreign-born as of 2018, most of them from Mexico, Hernandez reports.
The Mexican government says nearly 2,400 Mexican nationals had died from covid-19 in the United States as of Sept. 14, but didn't keep track of job descriptions for the deceased, Hernandez reports.