Always Essential 

July 21, 2020

What do you know about the work and living conditions of the people who harvest your food?

On July 2, members of Plymouth’s Immigration Ministry Team participated in a webinar titled:  Always Essential: A Community Awareness-Raiser, sponsored by Bellevue Congregational Church along with 7 other local inter-faith communities. Rosalinda Guillen and Australia Hernandez Cosby from Community to Community Development (C2C), a Bellingham, women-led grassroots organization dedicated to food sovereignty and immigrant rights, shared the experiences of agricultural worker communities during this COVID pandemic as well as their organization’s ongoing work to create a more just food system in Washington State.

Although agricultural workers have been deemed ‘essential’ during the COVID pandemic, their terrible work conditions make it evident that while their labor is essential, the companies that own the farms are not valuing their lives. In May, due to inadequate safety precautions, lack of hazard pay, paid sick leave and a lack of transparency over COVID-19 cases at those facilities, seven fruit processing warehouses went on strike. Despite the Governor’s response with new safety regulations, workers continue to be housed tightly and transported in full buses to fields where there are not always adequate handwashing facilities or masks.

Last year the food industry brought over 24,000 workers from Mexico using H2A visas and contracts that dictate where they work, live and their conditions and treatment. They are housed in rural areas, these workers don’t have the right to strike. It is incredibly difficult for them to complain because they’re in remote areas, have no transportation, and their employer holds on to their visa. In reality, the H2A workforce is a quasi-slave labor force.

What can we do? Pray for them. Advocate for them. Call state officials to ask for an increase in appropriate COVID protections and their enforcement for agricultural workers using the Farmworkers Matter script provided by C2C.

Governor Inslee: 360.902.4111 / State Legislators: 1.800.562.6000 / Department of Health: 360.236.4501 /   Dept. of Labor & Industries: 360.902.5800

Anne Kiemle for the Immigration Ministry Team

Topics: Church Life



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