Farm Workers need protection now!

Grower silence a week after UFW urges real steps to protect farm workers

Nearly all local, state and federal shelter-in-place orders exempt farm workers as “essential” employees. The overwhelming response farm workers express to this news, including on the UFW’s popular social media platforms, is anger: “Now they think we’re essential.”



Message from UFW President Teresa Romero on protecting farm workers from covid-19:

We at the United Farm Workers have continued monitoring breaking developments over coronavirus covid-19 at local, state, national and international levels. We are following directives issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, the World Health Organization ( as well as all guidelines put in place by state and local agencies.

We realize the situation is fluid and sobering, and we are working hard each day with policy makers, employers and farm workers to collect information and advocate for our union members and non-union workers alike.

On March 17, the UFW issued an “open letter” to agricultural employers and organizations about the perilous threats to farm workers from the covid-19 crisis along with specific, meaningful remedies the industry should take to ensure workers’ health and safety. We called on growers and their representatives to work with us because we all must do more during this period of genuine crisis to protect farm workers, communities and the domestic food supply.

Unfortunately, those explicit, concrete steps offering real relief from covid-19 have thus far been met with silence from the industry. They include extending sick leave to 40 hours or more; eliminating 90-day wait periods for new workers to be eligible for sick pay; eliminating required doctors’ notes when workers claim sick days; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces multiple times daily; and arranging for daycare assistance and flexibility since schools are closed.


How has the industry responded to the UFW’s open letter? Here is a sampling:

• Typical of industry reactions was a host of Monterey County agricultural groups that announced they created an “advisory” for worker protection as a “model template” to enhance protections that already exist against covid-19. Their only clear message to farm workers: They should keep working.

• One Ventura County grower said his farm is practicing social distancing, but added, “If workers don’t follow those rules at home, we don’t have any control over that.” That offers little comfort when multiple farm worker families must commonly live packed into small, substandard apartments.

• Some employers have issued letters or post cards workers can show authorities affirming they are “essential” employees and urging the workers to continue working. But those gestures do not serve as substitutes for meaningful steps to stem the pandemic by protecting farm workers with basic actions set out by the UFW.

Other vital measures the union called on the industry to embrace include covering farm workers under state or federal relief or stimulus benefits since at least half of U.S. farm workers are undocumented; mandatory, formal workplace plans to enforce social distancing, protect workers and minimize infection; easy access to medical services plus screening, testing and treatment for the great majority of non-union farm workers who have no health care; and assuring employer-provided housing has adequate hygiene and can sustain social distancing practices.

Importantly, we’ve been working closely with national Congressional leaders as well our local Congressional and state representatives and the governors of California and Washington state, serving as a resource for information about what’s happening with farm workers where we are active.


Nearly all local, state and federal shelter-in-place orders exempt farm workers as “essential” employees. The overwhelming response farm workers express to this news, including on the UFW’s popular social media platforms, is anger: “Now they think we’re essential.”

All other workers listed as essential—such as in the health professions, grocery stores and food distribution system, to name a few—are covered under this nation’s labor and social protective laws and rules such as minimum wages, overtime pay and the right to organize into unions.

Meanwhile, the responses from UFW union contract growers have been encouraging:

Immediately training workers on best workplace practices, including special crew meetings; having mushroom pickers adjust picking styles from side-by-side to working across from each other; most unionized workers can draw upon health care, paid sick leave and vacations, and personal days off—with some companies offering to pay workers if they become ill and others offering to cover health care for older workers if they are laid off.

To express appreciation for their essential services, thousands of Safeway supermarket workers are getting an extra $2 an hour, a form of hazard pay since they must expose themselves to infection.



The UFW asks why essential farm workers don’t deserve the same?

We will continue leading with our values and working to protect the health and welfare of all farm workers. Protecting farm workers will be our focus during the challenging days and months ahead.

¡Si Se Puede!
Teresa Romero, President
United Farm Workers of America
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