Community members, agricultural workers, and advocates share their concerns about what happens when essential workers do not get essential protections.

DUNN, NC (April 18, 2020) – Members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network, their partner organizations, and other individuals are calling on Governor Cooper to take critical action in support of agricultural workers in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The first confirmed and suspected farmworker cases of COVID-19 have already appeared in NC, making it urgent that Governor Cooper acts quickly. The coalition will present testimony from workers; faith leaders, including Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina; and advocates in a Zoom press conference on Tuesday, April 21, at 6:00 pm.

Speakers will address concerns for the health and safety of agricultural workers amid the pandemic. North Carolina’s field and food processing workers face many barriers to accessing essential services, especially during times of emergency. Agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable during this pandemic because language barriers, a lack of transportation, and a lack of connection to services in the community leaves them isolated from resources. Because migrant agricultural workers live in group housing, usually travel to and from work in shared transportation like buses, and work closely next to each other in the fields, “social distancing” is not something they can choose to do, leaving them at constant risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“Farmworkers are not just essential workers; they are essential parts of our community,” said Dr. Lior Vered, a policy advocate at Toxic Free NC. “They provide us with nourishment, and they deserve essential rights and protections to ensure they are not put at risk as a result of their work. We urge Gov. Cooper to take action and protect the people that bring food to our tables. The agricultural community is one that is often overlooked and excluded from protections, so making sure their needs are considered in our state’s emergency planning is critical.”

The Coalition is calling on Gov. Cooper to:
• Provide migrant farmworkers with access to healthcare services and other resources
• Ensure migrant agricultural workers are not put at risk in their employer-provided housing
• Ensure agricultural workers are able to protect themselves from exposure while working
• Protect workers who get sick from retaliation
• Ensure H-2A farmworkers are able to enroll in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ensure Spanish interpretation for health information, and provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers serving agricultural workers
Advocates are inviting the community to join their efforts by signing an online petition and making contributions to a farmworker organization of their choice.

The Farmworker Advocacy Network is a statewide network of organizations that works to improve the living and working conditions of farmworkers and poultry workers in North Carolina.