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Washington State: Demand immediate protection for farmworkers

Community to Community  |  Issue: May | June 2020

Declaration from Community to Community

Dear supporters,

Daily living and working was already dangerous and precarious for hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and immigrants before the onset of COVID-19. ICE has terrorized our communities and powerful growers have suppressed workers’ efforts to organize. Generations of environmental racism have contaminated poor neighborhoods and caused lifelong health impacts in communities of color.

This pandemic has found a perfect environment to increase our communities’ risk of fatality if they contract the virus. The agricultural industry has long refused to implement health and safety protections for farmworkers or worker housing, while state and federal agencies looked the other way.

Today, agribusiness is functionally exempt from COVID-19 protocols in Washington State and nationwide.

During times like these, capitalism reveals itself as an economic system that functions only for those that have the financial means to protect themselves.

The responses to this pandemic are leaving out the working poor, and in general the working class, the vulnerable, and otherwise “expendable” people. Our federal and state governments are acting like there is a certain level of acceptable fatalities of agricultural workers — deemed “essential workers” according to Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation.

Government at every level is complicit in every worker’s death during this pandemic.

As an ecofeminist, anti-capitalist organization, we know that these deaths are needless and preventable. We also know that agribusiness will not stop their exploitative practices without a fight.

As farmworkers join countless other workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, workers being laid off, and workers still working for employers not following social distancing and sanitizing practices, we ask you to join us in demanding WA State take immediate action to put in place real protections with accountability and enforcement in the agricultural industry, so that farmworkers can survive this virus and the financial crisis that is already crippling families.

Call Governor Inslee (360) 902-4111 and DEMAND immediate protection for farmworkers in Washington State:

Enact Emergency Orders with funding for staffing to ensure all COVID-19 protocols, including appropriate social distancing guidelines, are being followed in the fields and packing/processing, with enforcement and consequences for noncompliance, such as fines. Provide personal protective clothing and equipment to farmworkers at no cost to them. Pay farmworkers sick leave if they become ill. Establish an incentive for recruitment of needed farmworkers in WA State, including raising wages to work in agriculture.

Ensure there will be no retaliation against workers asking for better protections, or for becoming ill. Ensure the COVID-19 protocols are not used as retaliation in hiring practices.

Require transparent recruitment and hiring information and housing protections for all farmworkers related to COVID-19. In addition to informing workers about the terms and conditions of employment when workers are being hired, all persons who are recruiting for agricultural employment in WA must provide detailed information about the risks of COVID-19, including how employers will protect their safety while transporting and housing them, and in the workplace.

All farmworker housing, tools, and equipment must be fully sanitized before farmworker families move in and use the equipment. There must be proof of that sanitation. There must be designated sanitized quarantine living facilities with access to medical personnel, and COVID-19 plans approved by WA State Department of Health and local Health jurisdictions.

E-mail the Employment Security Department (nstreuli@esd.wa.gov) and DEMAND they stop processing and approving H2A visa applications immediately for farms in Washington state.


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