With California farms facing labor shortages, grocers experiencing empty shelves because of logistical bottlenecks, and many of the state’s up to one million farmworkers lacking access to health care, Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) introduced legislation on April 9 to protect the health, safety and economic security of agricultural workers and prevent disruptions to the nation’s food supply.
The five-bill “California Farmworker COVID-19 Relief Package” proposes to expand paid sick leave for farmworkers, provide supplemental hazard pay, extend a tax credit to farmers who offer overtime work to their workers, fund an outreach campaign to educate workers on personal protection practices, and help expedite temporary housing to mitigate overcrowding and allow for social distancing. The bills were conceived following consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture as well as members of the agricultural industry and farmworker community.
“California’s farmworkers play a critical role in our state’s $50 billion agriculture industry, and in our nation’s food supply,” said Rivas, who grew up in farmworker housing. “Gov. Newsom has rightly designated agricultural workers as an essential infrastructure workforce. But as we ask our farmworkers to continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take action to protect their health, safety and economic security. Protecting farmworkers is not just our moral duty, it is also critical for preventing disruptions to our food supply.”
Agriculture and farmworkers currently face unprecedented demand for food products as residents of California and elsewhere stock their pantries to ensure they can “shelter in place.” Yet even as they work to meet this demand, farmworkers often lack access to adequate healthcare, and they live and work in crowded conditions that can leave them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
“Protecting our farmworkers is especially important as they step up to the plate, placing themselves at risk, to feed our families and keep our food supply intact during this challenging time,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), co-author of the bills.
Rivas and Garcia represent agricultural districts, home to tens of thousands of farmworkers in the Salinas and Coachella Valleys.
“My grandfather was a farmworker, and I saw how tirelessly he worked under difficult conditions,” Rivas said. “Farmworkers are the unsung heroes who help keep our country fed. I feel a personal responsibility to make sure we take care of them, just like they take care of us.”