Merkley, Leahy And Colleagues Introduce Urgently-Needed Legislation To Help Hard-Hit Agricultural Workers Amid Pandemic

. . . . Lack of paid leave, protective measures contributing to massive coronavirus outbreaks among essential workers

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, June 23, 2020) -- Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was joined by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and others Tuesday in introducing the Frontline At-Risk Manual (FARM) Laborers Protection Act, groundbreaking legislation that establishes critical protections, including 10 days of paid leave and hazard pay, for America’s agricultural workers.  The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Merkley serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and Leahy is the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“Every worker, regardless of the color of their skin, the zip code they live in, or their line of work deserves the same fundamental protections in the workplace. Yet millions of America’s farmworkers, whose work has long been integral to feeding Americans across the country, are without those safeguards—protections that are only made more important by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Merkley. “These workers feed our families. Now, it’s our job to make sure they have the protections they need to stay safe.”

Leahy said:  “The essential role of farmworkers in our rural economies and food supply chain has never been more clear, nor have the hazards that they continue to face daily as this crisis continues.  It is past time that we provide them and their families with the necessary protection, safety and support to keep our food system viable. While the Trump Administration is all too willing to deem farmworkers ‘essential,’ it has refused to provide farmers and farmworkers with clear, mandatory workplace safety guidelines and the support to implement them. This bill is a critical step toward protecting farmers, farmworkers, and the food they produce for all Americans.”

Although the Families First Coronavirus Act expanded paid sick leave to millions of workers, a provision exempting employers with fewer than 50 employees from providing the leave to their workers has left millions of farmworkers — 96.6 percent of whom work at farms with fewer than 50 employees — at risk. As a result America’s agricultural workers, who are forced to choose between following public health guidance and keeping their jobs, and have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The FARM Laborers Protection Act would address that injustice by providing 10 days of paid sick leave to agricultural workers; provide pandemic premium pay at an additional $13 per hour for these workers in recognition of the personal risk of maintaining the nation’s food supply during the pandemic; help maintain payrolls and limit layoffs and furloughs in the critical industry; and implement recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding sanitation and social distancing in work sites, employer-provided housing, and transportation.

In addition, the legislation would provide grants to agricultural producers to help them provide premium pay to their employees and purchase handwashing stations, portable restrooms, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The FARM Laborers Protection Act is endorsed by United Farm Workers (UFW), UFW Foundation, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Farmworker Justice, Causa Oregon, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Foundation, Unite Oregon and Unete Center for Farm Worker Advocacy, Environmental Working Group, and Justice for Migrant Women.

A summary of the legislation is available here.

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