Oct 26, 2020
Most of the workers who harvest this country’s food are migrants. Some are undocumented immigrants, others are here on temporary work visas. In either case, they are vulnerable to extreme exploitation, paid low wages for backbreaking physical labor. As they follow the harvest up the coasts, they are crammed into trailers or barracks, sharing rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and are taken to the fields on buses with up to 40 people.
When the virus hit, most farm bosses took few, if any, safety measures. As a result, COVID-19 has swept through farmworker camps. According to one study, by mid-October, about 150,000 farmworkers had gotten the virus and about 3,750 had died.
Lipman Farms, a giant agriculture company with farms in Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia, stopped the virus—but only by locking its workers in. Where workers used to be able to go to town on their days off, now they are not allowed to leave. Without access to laundry machines or to the store to buy new clothes, workers report getting rashes from dirty work clothes.
As one worker said, without being able to leave, “You’re practically a slave.” And because these workers are here on temporary work visas, if they quit, they will be immediately deported.
The companies could have built more housing so workers wouldn’t be so crammed together. They could have brought in extra buses, and provided PPE. They could have provided paid days off if a worker has symptoms, and set up a program of regular testing. But that would have cut into profits.
The threat of deportation makes these workers more vulnerable. But never think that the bosses would have a problem applying these same conditions to all of us, despite the lies Trump tells to those of us he calls “American workers.”