Local activists rally at state capital for hazard pay for farmers
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Over the weekend, multiple activists rallied at the state capital for more COVID-19 protections and hazard pay for farm workers.
This is the 9th stop for Tri-Cities local Bryan Vazquez. Vazquez and his fellow activists have been marching and talking to elected officials all around the state in an effort to gain support and spread awareness of the challenges agricultural workers face each day. Vazquez says farmworkers across Washington are dying from COVID-19, while providing their agricultural labor to our communities and state.
“Agricultural workers are the back bone of this county and we are being treated as disposable people,” said Vazquez.
On August 19, Governor Inslee issued a proclamation requiring agricultural employers to regularly test their workforce for COVID-19, when health officials identify an outbreak that passes certain thresholds.
The governor previously issued other health requirements making sure employers provide employees masks and nearby hand washing stations.
In addition to that, two funds have been made available to help workers during the pandemic: the Immigrant Relief Fund and the Food Production Paid Leave Program.
The Immigrant Relief Fund will provide $40 million to assist Washington residents who are unable to access federal stimulus programs due to their immigration status and the Food Production Paid Leave Program will provide $3 million of financial resources to certain food production workers who remain home when ill.
Bryan Vazquez says he and his parents were farmers and that these things are temporary fixes to a larger issue.
He says a letter for the governor called the “Farmworker’s Rights Initiative August 2020” is being drafted. In it, are a list of demands for all farmworkers in the state of Washington. Those demands are no-cost rapid result COVID-19 testing, hazard pay, paid sick leave, proper personal protective equipment, and safe housing arrangements.
“Eduardo Castañeda and myself are who started the series of marches and who are currently working on this letter. In addition, a few young activist from Wenatchee and two East Wenatchee city council members are helping with this process,” said Vazquez
Kene Christensen,a third-generation farmer from Royal City, says, “It’s expensive to run a farm, employers often go into debt to stay relevant and the market dictates the price of crops.”
He says our area has such an abundance of food, he make more money exporting it out of the United States. Domestic prices of food, he claims, are the worst and people are not buying as much as they used to.
“Our margins are so slim on most agricultural commodities that we can’t get even pay what we’d like to pay somebody, just because that’s not the reality we live in,” said Christensen.
More information on what Governor Inslee is doing for farm workers can be found here.