The COVID-19 pandemic poses a severe threat to the essential workers who feed us, including workers in poultry and seafood processing plants and in agricultural fields. Food and farm workers are unable to maintain necessary health and safety protocol due to crowded working and housing conditions, inadequate personal protective equipment, and lack of paid sick leave or access to medical care. These workplace and housing conditions put agricultural workers and their families at high risk for the COVID-19 illness. Despite growing concern for essential workers and fear of disruptions to the food system, these weaknesses remain unaddressed. Many workers in Maryland’s agricultural and meat processing industries are immigrants or migrant workers and fear risk of retaliation for reporting issues in their workplace. Maryland currently does not have mandatory protection measures to prevent further disease outbreaks.
Marylanders for Food and Farm Worker Protection are supporting a package of bills during the 2021 Maryland General Assembly Session that would better protect these essential workers as we navigate COVID-19. Send a letter today to ask your representatives to stand up for the people who feed us.
Healthy Farmworkers Act: Migrant food and farm workers are uniquely susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 because of their housing environments. Workers are often bussed to the jobsite in crowded vehicles and, most live in employer-provided housing that consists of crowded bunks and barracks where it is impossible for workers to maintain necessary social distancing. Improving housing standards for farm workers will help guarantee their safety during the pandemic. Emergency Bill HR0577 (The Healthy Farmworkers Act) requires The Maryland Department of Labor to adopt enforceable COVID-19 precautions and housing standards for all camp operators and employers of H-2 guest workers and require improved inspections of employer provided housing.
HB0124 - Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS): Workers in Maryland’s fields and processing plants lack basic protections from Covid-19, such as personal protective equipment, handwashing stations, and the ability to maintain social distance. They are also currently exempt from paid sick leave and overtime pay. Employers must implement appropriate safety precautions in order to protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure. HB0124 requires Maryland Occupational Safety & Health (MOSH) to issue an ETS that establishes exposure risk level, minimum safety protocols, an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan, and a permanent standard for aerosol disease transmission precautions.
Maryland Essential Workers Protections Act: The Maryland Essential Workers Protections Act will provide much-needed standards and procedures to protect the health and safety of all essential workers during pandemics. These include, safe and hygienic working conditions, hazard pay, health care, implementation of emergency action plans, universal health and bereavement leave, the right to refuse dangerous work, and free testing and reporting of positive results.
Amendments to the Healthy Working Families Act: Farmworkers are exempt from many workforce protections, including paid sick leave. The temporary federal law, Families First Coronavirus Act, provided for 80 hours (10 days) of paid leave when a worker falls ill, must quarantine, or cannot work due to school or daycare closures, but it expired on December 31, 2020 and exempted certain businesses. Amending Maryland's Healthy Working Families Act will fill the gap by making more families eligible during state-declared public health emergencies.
Stand up for the people who feed us! Send an email to your representatives today to ask for their support of these four bills.