More than a third of the vegetables and two-thirds of fruits and nuts in the United States are grown in California, according to AP News. The California farmworkers who harvest our food work hard, but they do not always have access to the benefits they are entitled to by law.
While farmworkers have some benefits on paper, between 60 and 75% of them are undocumented, and many of them are afraid to take advantage of programs like workers’ compensation. Immigrant farmworkers are often exploited because employers take advantage of their fears of deportation. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, farmworkers cannot work from home, and many of them are not provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). Worse still, some farmworkers remain underinformed of the risks they face and the options they have if they get sick.
In March, the United Farm Workers of America asked for more sick pay, protections, and information for workers in the fields. A spokesperson for the organization stated:
“What we noted immediately was that workers were not being provided protections or information. [Growers are] not even trying. And that’s gotten workers very scared. The last hands that touched that produce before the consumer puts it in their mouth is a farm worker’s hands, so we better care about what happens to these workers.”
A coronavirus outbreak in the agricultural sector could devastate our nation’s food system, which is already strained due to widespread panic buying. As such, it’s crucial that sick workers have access to their rights.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA)
Farmworkers are protected under the FFRCA, which means they qualify for sick leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. Unfortunately, many farmworkers are older and have higher rates of respiratory disease and hypertension. With an increased risk for complications and decreased access to health insurance, a diagnosis could be a death sentence. Further, the United Farm Workers of America worries whether workers will be able to use sick leave at all:
“In our experience, workers are ridiculed for even trying to use sick pay. They’re asked if they have a doctor’s note, but they don’t even have healthcare. Or sometimes [employers] just flat out deny them.”
Agricultural workers face a similar situation with workers’ compensation. Employers often make obtaining benefits difficult, if not impossible.
The problem is so prevalent that California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lawyer recently issued a reminder that employees cannot be denied workers’ comp benefits due to their immigration status.
Fight for Your Rights With Our Firm
Every employee in the United States is entitled to basic rights, especially during this uncertain, largely unprecedented time. If you are having trouble accessing workers’ compensation benefits or sick pay, you can discuss your situation with the Law Offices of Andrew B. Shin.