The expansion of the coronavirus in the US is strongly affecting the farmworker's safety in the country. The workers, mostly Latino, live in closed quarters, sleep in bunk beds, and share bathrooms and kitchens. They travel to the fields in crowded buses and often work in groups. Even though farm employees are considered essential workers, they often do not have health insurance or paid sick leave.
Farms have already reported outbreaks among hundreds of workers in states like California, Washington, Florida, and Michigan. However, the federal government hasn't implemented any regulations to protect agricultural workers from the coronavirus or to instruct employers on what to do when they get sick.
Migrant worker advocacy organizations say this allows farms to take advantage of their workers, and the farmers say they are doing what they can to protect workers with the limited resources they have. The truth is that the situation is unclear, said Alexis Guild, the director of health policies and programs at Farmworker Justice.
The responsibility of agricultural holdings
Nationally, there have been at least 3,600 cases of farmworkers testing positive for COVID-19, according to media reports compiled by the National Center for Farmworker Health. In addition, employers and agricultural workers have acknowledged that many times it's not feasible to carry out the most basic steps to curb transmission - social distancing and the use of masks - when working in high temperatures.
While the Department of Labor has not offered enforceable federal safety standards for COVID-19, it did collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a set of voluntary, agriculture-specific guidelines.
Some of the suggestions that the CDC and the Department of Labor had, which were geared more toward food processing factories, such as tomato packing plants, included installing plastic bulkheads if there is no possibility of a 2-meter distance between workers, the installation of handwashing stations and the provision of personal protective equipment or cloth face covers.
These are sound guidelines, in theory, activists say. Their most obvious flaw is that they are voluntary. "We don't believe that the workers' health and safety should be left to the goodwill of employers," said Maria Perales Sanchez, communications coordinator for the Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights), an organization with offices in Mexico and the United States.