We are all being bombarded by all things COVID-19 related, and, although it may not seem like a positive, let’s put things into perspective: the majority of US workers, whether still employed or not, are able to ‘Stay Safe at Home’ and get updates on the latest virus news.
Yet, there is a large sector of US workers – invisible prior to the Coronavirus pandemic – which is now considered essential. Everyone is paying attention to farmworkers, and those of us who have been advocating for them for decades are thrilled they are receiving recognition. Finally, a much-needed light is being shined on the health and occupational issues farmworkers face daily, which are only being now compounded by COVID-19.
We can’t help but wonder, though… What happens when the world is no longer in an uproar and everyone returns to ‘normal’? Are we really expecting our farmworkers, who, if we’re honest with ourselves, have always been essential, to return to a life of obscurity because we have switched our focus?
Are there going to be programs in place to deal with the whiplash of being thrust into the spotlight out of a public concern and the need to keep grocery store shelves stocked to being relegated back to obscurity when the crisis is over? Or worse – being treated as less-than, because the great equalizer of impending illness will no longer be a threat?
We do not pretend to have all the answers, andwe are not going to jump on my soapbox and profess to be able to solve this long-standing problem in our country. However, I will say that we must do better when we come out on the other side of this pandemic. For far too long, farmworkers have not received the recognition deserved for putting their health on the line daily; toiling in fields in less than ideal work conditions doing work that most Americans won’t; and earning less than a living wage that doesn’t afford them the opportunity to purchase the very fruits and vegetables they pick.
Of course, our immediate concern is making sure that our farmworkers are getting real-time, relevant, and accurate information about the best ways to protect themselves, what signs and symptoms to look for, and where to turn should they fall ill. Health and safety is always our primary concern at AFOP, which is why, in addition to COVID-19 response, many trainers in our network are making sure that our farmworkers are getting the necessary training on the occupational health hazards their jobs pose on the regular.
These are unprecedented times and, as a result, the nation has responded with novel ideas and solutions. It is inspiring to see how we are able to come together for the common good when we work together. I hope that when we are able to put COVID-19 behind us, we don’t lose that ‘can do’ spirit and tackle our broken food system as a nationwide community. It is time we put our Essential Farmworkers in the forefront where they belong, not as villains but as the hardworking champions they are.
Whether in a pandemic or not, AFOP Health & Safety is committed to attending to the needs of farmworkers, giving them the safety training they so desperately need and deserve, advocating for them, and broadcasting their plight to the world. When everything else is so uncertain, it can feel good to know – that’s one thing that can still be counted on!