Eastern Shore, MD -- Today, a new coalition of nearly 100 groups fighting for workers’ rights launched its campaign calling on Governor Hogan to issue an emergency executive order to provide adequate protections for the state’s poultry, seafood, and agricultural workers in the face of COVID-19. The coalition has formed in response to the Hogan administration’s refusal to take the health and safety of essential food workers seriously, despite several attempts by workers and allies to move the Governor to action.
Marylanders for Food and Farm Worker Protection, brought together by the Smart on Pesticides Coalition, is also led by Food & Water Action, Migrant Clinicians Network, CATA - The Farmworkers Support Committee, Centro de los Derechos de Migrante, Farmworker Justice, Maryland Clean Water Action, Friends of the Earth, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Center for Progressive Reform, Public Justice Center, Fair Farms, Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights, and National Employment Law Project.
The coalition is seeking to draw attention to the perilous conditions workers in the food industry face. Many of these individuals are immigrant and migrant laborers employed on the Eastern Shore, which made the news in May as a national COVID-19 hotspot. Workers are expected to put in long hours and stay healthy in spite of an absence of paid sick leave, cramped and poorly ventilated migrant worker housing, crowded transportation and lack of employer-provided PPE, and the fear of retaliation if workers call in sick or come forward with complaints about workplace conditions.
The coalition is calling for immediate action from Governor Hogan, demanding protection of Maryland's vulnerable farmworkers, poultry, and seafood processing workers with an Executive Order instituting mandatory and enforceable protections for COVID-19. The sign-on letter with the full list of demands can be found here.
“We cannot allow Maryland’s most marginalized workers to continue to be treated as inevitable casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, which is why we need immediate and aggressive action from Governor Hogan,” says Lily Hawkins, Maryland organizer for Food & Water Action. “These workers keep our food systems running, and they deserve paid sick leave, appropriate PPE, and acceptable housing and healthcare access.”
“Governor Hogan must move quickly to require protective measures for food and farmworkers on the Eastern Shore,” says Bonnie Raindrop, outreach coordinator for the Smart on Pesticides Coalition. “This includes adequate masks, proper social distancing at workplaces, employer-supplied housing and transportation, improved ventilation, and recurring and widespread testing at workplaces and residences, as well as contact tracing.”
“COVID-19 has ripped the thin veil that had previously and conveniently shielded most Americans from the sordid working conditions of so many these essential workers endure each day,” says Amy Liebman, Eastern Shore resident and Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Programs for the Migrant Clinicians Network. “It is time to act. These workers need protection in order to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe. And our state needs to step in to ensure that the workers who put food on our tables are provided with necessary healthcare.”
“Thousands of migrant workers arrive in Maryland on temporary work visas and face trafficking and exploitation,” says Sulma Guzman, Policy Director & Legislative Counsel for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante. “The coronavirus, coupled with the lack of protections, worsens conditions for these workers.”
“Minimal attention has been focused on enforcing measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 among agricultural workers, whose working, housing and transportation conditions may expose them to the highly infectious disease,” says Devon Payne-Sturges, DrPH, MPH, MEngr, an associate professor at University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. “Agricultural workers, in turn, pose the risk of becoming a source for spread of the disease among their families and broader communities within the State.”