Public health experts are clear that all of us in America need to come together and support each other at this time. All of us means all of us. Across many industries and many sectors, often overlooked workers from all walks of life are becoming the frontline heroes of the pandemic.
Immigrants — documented and not — are pulling their weight in a number of frontline sectors, none more important than the immigrant-dominated agricultural labor force. And it’s clear that all of us rely on the back-breaking work of immigrants who turbocharge our vital food security sector. As pieces in the LA Times and New York Times remind us, these are skilled laborers with a unique and hard to replicate skill set, working long hours in difficult circumstances with minimal health, labor or legal
protections. We should all be grateful for these essential workers.
Andrea Castillo writes in the Los Angeles Times, “Farmworkers face coronavirus risk: ‘You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom’,”
‘There’s never any attention paid to the campesino,’ [Farmworker Carlos Garcia, 73] said — to the field worker. ‘God blesses us. We can’t do anything else.
‘No one wants to die.’
…For workers on the Central Coast, Zucker [an advocate with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy] said, this is the worst possible time to face a health crisis. As peak strawberry season ramps up next month, pay switches from hourly to piece rate, he said. Pickers are incentivized to work hard and fast, sometimes at the cost of their own health. Spending 20 seconds washing their hands could feel like an eternity.
‘You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom,’ he said.
…’These inequities that our families are living with, they’ve always been there,’ [Genevieve Flores-Haro of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project] said. ‘But when things like the wildfires happen, when things like a global pandemic happen, you really get to see those disparities laid bare.’
Miriam Jordan in the New York Times also highlights the needed immigrant workers, who feed the country, in her piece titled “Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become ‘Essential’ During Pandemic”
It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,’ said Ms. Silva, a 43-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has been working in the clementine groves south of Bakersfield, Calif.
‘It’s sad that it takes a health crisis like this to highlight the farmworkers’ importance,’ said Hector Lujan, chief executive of Reiter Brothers, a large family-owned berry grower based in Oxnard, Calif., that also has operations in Florida and the Pacific Northwest.
…Mr. Lujan, whose company employs thousands of field workers, described them as unsung heroes for guaranteeing that Americans have food security.
‘Maybe one of the benefits of this crisis is that they are recognized and come out of the shadows,’ said Mr. Lujan, whose company has been lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would legalize immigrant farmworkers.