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Pandemic Adversely impacts Latino Community

Raul Pickett  |  Issue: October 2020
Yakima Valley workers went on strike
Yakima Valley workers went on strike earlier this year demanding coronavirus protection from their employers.

VISALIA, CA — There are more than 34,500 food and juice processors in the United States. The five states with the highest number of plants include 35% of the national population. There are states where the majority of workers are Latino, including California, with more than 5,000 plants. These employees are extremely vulnerable to an increase in infections especially since employers under the Trump administration seldom undergo inspections, and OSHA offices give employers flexibility in executing worksite infection control policies. President Trump earlier issued an executive order mandating that all food processing plants remain open regardless of the level of infection, where CDC guidelines are not enforced. While OSHA has received over 6,000 complaints involving COVID infection control, they have only issued one citation.

We are now in “peak’ picking season and in the height of packing throughout California with thousands of employees working around the clock and in intense working conditions, inherently susceptible to infection.  This is repeated throughout our country with employers demonstrating various degrees of commitment for the safety of their employees. Given that Latinos represent the vast majority of the essential workers in agriculture, this is the makings of a “perfect storm” that potentially can ravage local communities and eventually the entire state. The current surge in infections is a clear indication that the Latino community will continue to be adversely impacted. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ingrained structural racism manifests itself most during times of crisis.  If our community is to be held to a different standard and expected to work under hazardous conditions, we must demand immediate assurance that their safety and wellbeing are being given the highest priority.

farmworkers and fires in California
Farmworkers, being essential workers work under dangerous situations during the fires in California.

The lack of national leadership, and the failure of the administration to develop a centralized, cohesive national policy has contributed to a proliferation of COVID infections across key states where significant number of Latinos live in poverty and are employed as essential workers. To our detriment, the United States now has over 25% of the world’s infections with only 4% of the population and a similar rate of deaths.

As essential workers, Latinos assure that the majority community is well fed and served, their children and elderly cared for, their homes and facilities cleaned and maintained, crops cultivated and harvested, livestock properly managed, restaurant meals prepared, served and delivered, and hotels cleaned. While many continue to thrive in the current recession, most Latinos are paid low wages, kept in poverty, and often forced into unemployment, without food and basic health care. Even more disturbing, thousands of Latino children continue to be separated from their parents, and many are kept in cages, where they succumb to COVID infections. Despite this horrific picture, far too many in society either ignore this distorted Trumpian policy or continue to profess that it’s all for the ‘greater good.’

It must be emphatically stressed that there is great distress within the Mexican American community that the pandemic will increasingly have a major adverse impact on our community. There are no signs that a centralized, cohesive and enforceable statewide infection control strategy is being implemented, especially at the worksite.  Our deepest fears are now being confirmed with the deaths from COVID infections continuing to multiply in the Latino community.  In California, Latinos represent nearly 60% of the total deaths and 75% of the deaths of those in the category 18 to 45 years of age.

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