Latino food workers are at risk of contracting coronavirus at their jobs, which is not only a risk to their health but also to the nation’s food supply, according to a Hispanic civil rights organization.

During an online news conference yesterday leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) discussed the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Hispanic workers in the food supply chain. They said virtually no personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to workers along the food continuum, from field workers in the fresh produce industry to grocery store workers who stock shelves. 

The meat and poultry sectors are being particularly hard hit with plant closures in place because of clusters of infected workers. The LULAC officials reported a dozen food plants closed in the past week.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the civil rights group, said failure to provide protective gear to food workers in fields and production plants will end up with more coronavirus infections and a disruption of food supplies. He cited “fighting over toilet paper and paper towels” in recent weeks and said such shortages of food would hit the shelves two to three weeks after supply chain failure.

Dolores Huerta, president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of United Farm Workers, also stressed the desperate need for masks and gloves for workers, as well as employer education about social distancing. Field workers and workers in food processing plants generally work shoulder to shoulder. She said even transportation to and from fields is dangerous for farm workers because of the close quarters on buses and the lack of masks.

Problems at a JBS meat packing plant in Greeley, CO, served as a case in point for the news conference. The plant is closed until through next week after hundreds of its thousands of employees tested positive for COVID-19, also referred to as the coronavirus.

The daughter of Saul Sanchez, a worker with 30-plus years at the plant and who died April 7, said JBS officials at the Greeley plant were not sharing information about sick and dying workers. As of April 14 there have been three employees from the plant die from COVID-19.

Beatriz Range, the daughter of Sanchez, said she called the plant offices to report her father’s death and no one would talk to her. She still has not been contacted by anyone from JBS, she said.

Kim Cordova, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 of Colorado, represents the workers at the JBS meat plant in Greeley, CO, said company officials are not answering questions. The U.S./Canada membership of the union includes 1.9 million food processing and grocery workers, according to Cordova.

Echoing the other speakers, Cordova said personal protective equipment, sick/hazard pay, and education about safe practices all need to be addresses to help ensure the production of food continues uninterrupted by the coronavirus.

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