Merkley Leads Call to Protect America’s Farmworkers in Upcoming Relief Legislation

Merkley Leads Call to Protect America’s Farmworkers in Upcoming Relief Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is leading a group of fellow senators in urging Senate leadership to establish and enforce adequate protections for America’s farmworkers—whose essential work enables families across America to keep food on the table during the coronavirus crisis.

The letter comes as reports highlight farmworkers’ critical need for additional health and safety safeguards to protect themselves, their families, other workers, and the stability of the food supply amid the pandemic.

“As the virus threatens the resiliency of our food supply chains, it has never been more important to ensure the well-being of our agricultural producers and workforce,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “We support ongoing efforts to help agricultural producers through this crisis, and also believe it is critical to recognize that our nation’s food security depends on the ability of farmworkers to continue to work safely to produce our nation's food.”

“Farmworkers and their families need our support and protection. Their work for this country should be respected and honored as our food supply depends on them. As this crisis evolves and Congress continues to explore response packages, we stand ready to work with you to ensure these protections are made available,” the senators concluded.

To ensure that farmworkers in America—regardless of their immigration status—receive critical support, and to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in agricultural communities, the lawmakers recommend that agricultural producers that receive future emergency federal funding must:

  • Provide sick pay and family leave for farmworkers to be able to sustain themselves (should they or other family members fall ill with COVID-19 symptoms) and protect other workers from exposure.
  • Provide pandemic or hazard premium pay for farmworkers who are putting themselves and their families at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 to feed the nation, with federal reimbursement to producers for this additional cost.
  • Maintain payrolls and limit farmworker layoffs and furloughs.
  • Implement CDC recommendations on sanitation and social distancing in work sites, employer provided housing and transportation.

Previous coronavirus relief legislation has provided over $23.5 billion in support for agricultural producers, but unlike other forms of industry supports, the rescue funds did not require recipients to take any particular steps to support their workers. 

“Farmworkers are expected to work to safeguard our food security but they lack employment-based benefits, such as sick pay, to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. They are also facing extraordinary economic stress with the additional costs of childcare, nutrition, transportation, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensuring the health, safety and economic security of farmworkers is essential to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in agricultural communities and protect our food supply chain. Previous COVID-19 response packages have allocated billions of dollars to agricultural producers without any requirements to safeguard farmworkers. We applaud Senators Merkley (D-OR), Baldwin (D-WI), Booker (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Warren (D-MA) and Wyden (D-OR), for urging Senate leadership to correct this in the upcoming package,” said Teresa Romero, President of the United Farm Workers union.

“As a leading agricultural state, Oregon is home to roughly 87,000 farmworkers. PCUN, Oregon's farmworker union, applauds the leadership of Senators Merkley and Wyden, along with their Senate colleagues, for doing right by our farmworkers and ensuring that they can take care of themselves and their families if they fall ill to COVID-19. As essential critical infrastructure workers who are putting themselves at risk to sustain our food supply chain, farm workers deserve emergency paid leave, pandemic premium pay, job security, and worksites that safeguard their health and safety,” said Reyna Lopez, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) President.

Senator Merkley was joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

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Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer

The COVID-19 health crisis has presented our nation with challenges unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. During this crisis, our frontline farmworkers are laboring every day to put food on America’s dinner table and maintain the nation’s food supply. As the virus threatens the resiliency of our food supply chains, it has never been more important to ensure the well-being of our agricultural producers and workforce. Future legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic must include protections for these vital members of our communities. Among them, for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to protect their workers.

We support ongoing efforts to help agricultural producers through this crisis, and also believe it is critical to recognize that our nation’s food security depends on the ability of farmworkers to continue to work safely to produce our nation's food.  To support farmworkers (regardless of immigration status) and contain the spread of COVID-19 in agricultural communities, we urge that any future emergency funding to agricultural producers require recipients to:

  • Provide sick pay and family leave for farmworkers to be able to sustain themselves (should they or other family members fall ill with COVID-19 symptoms) and protect other workers from exposure.
  • Provide pandemic or hazard premium pay for farmworkers who are putting themselves and their families at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 to feed the nation.
  • Maintain payrolls and limit farmworker layoffs and furloughs.
  • Implement CDC recommendations on sanitation and social distancing in work sites, employer provided housing and transportation.

Farmworkers and their families need our support and protection. Their work for this country should be respected and honored as our food supply depends on them.

As this crisis evolves and Congress continues to explore response packages, we stand ready to work with you to ensure these protections are made available.

 

Sincerely,