Due to COVID-19, the specific coronavirus of the 2020 pandemia, the majority of people in many countries of the world have been told to stay home. But some people have been designated as essential workers. In all countries, health care personnel are top on the list, but so are some rarely noticed workers, such as grocery store checkers and harvesters.
Farm workers have struggled for centuries to gain recognition for their important service to humanity, but their victories have been few and far between. In 1963, Brazilian farm workers won a national law regulating union organizing and establishing basic rights. In the United States, they were specifically excluded from labor laws written in the context of the Great Depression and it was only in 1975 that they gained legal recognition in one state of the USA, California.
Today, in the context of the pandemia, their plight has gained renewed attention. Elevated to “essential worker” status, many farm workers and their unions have begun to ask: “If we’re essential, why are we paid so little and provided so few protections for our own health and safety?”
In fact, many California-based farm workers are forced to live and work in conditions tha make “social distancing” impossible to observe. Moreover, their poverty and low pay means they and their families could end up on the street starving to death is the adults can’t work. Furthermore, the fact that many are immigrant workers, not always legally sanctioned to work in the USA, means they have no standing before the law and are subject to deportation policing rather than supportive policies. And yet, California’s farm workers pick some 60 percent of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts consumed in the entire country.
The following links recount some specific stories of these dilemmas.
From the News Hour, Public Broadcasting system, on 20 April 2020https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-sending-american-agriculture-into-chaos
From the Center for Investigative Reporting “Reveal” show, “Essential Workers” 4 April 2020….
From National Public Radio, “Farmworkers, Deemed Essential, Don’t Feel Protected From Pandemic” 31 March 2020…https://www.npr.org/2020/03/31/824358228/farmworkers-deemed-essential-dont-feel-protected-from-pandemic