Deemed “essential” at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many agricultural workers have been working without basic protections against the virus, including healthcare, sick pay, workplace protections, and access to unemployment benefits.
And some of them are striking in response.
Workers from several agricultural companies in Yakima County, Wash.—include Frosty Packing, Allan Bros., Matson Fruit Co., Monson Fruit, Hansen Fruit, and Columbia Reach—have walked out in protest over unsafe working conditions and a lack of hazard pay to compensate for those conditions.
The workers are protesting an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment and inadequate sanitizing, and social distancing inside the plants. Workers also told the Yakima Herald they fear they will lose their jobs if they call in sick.
Yakima County is home to a $2-billion farm industry. It also has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases of any county on the West Coast as of May 6.
Washington State is currently being sued by United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO, and Familias Unidas por la Justicia for not producing mandatory guidance for employers to protect their agricultural workers.
The state has proposed rules for preventing the spread of COVID-19 at agricultural operations, but they are not yet finalized.
The Yakima County strikes and walkouts come amid a COVID-19 crisis in the meatpacking industry, where almost half of US hotspots originated in factories where employees work in cramped conditions, according to the Guardian.
Three of the warehouses where workers are striking have reported cases of COVID-19. Yakima Health District figures show there are about 310 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the agriculture and food production industry there, accounting for roughly 15% of total cases in the county.