To prevent another virus outbreak among highly susceptible farm workers, activists are calling on New York legislators to adopt laws establishing specific protocols for testing and protecting essential workers.

Anxiety runs deep among those working on dairy farms, and picking and packing produce across upstate New York because of close quarters common among the crews, farm workers said during an online news conference Tuesday, organized by the Workers Center of Central New York, an economic justice campaign based in Syracuse.

“We’re all called essential workers, but we are forgotten because we are working without protection,” said Luis Jimenez, a Livingston County dairy worker, speaking through an interpreter.

Based on observations from at least four farm workers who participated in the news conference, it will be only a matter of time before another outbreak spreads across upstate New York farms if more stringent worker protections aren’t required.

“Despite a series of COVID outbreaks in farms and greenhouses since March, there are still no mandatory protections for farm workers in New York state,” said Crispin Hernandez, from the Workers Center of Central New York.

A USA Today New York Network probe of an outbreak at the Green Empire Farms complex in Oneida indicated congregant housing may have touched off a May outbreak among 176 workers. A second outbreak at an Oswego County apple processor infected 82 people, mostly immigrant workers.

Other workplace outbreaks, unrelated to agriculture, were reported at a Fulton County aluminum factory and a Washington County quarry.

New York needs “prevention, not intervention after an outbreak has occurred,” said Jessica Maxwell, of the Workers Center. “Four months into the pandemic, it is shocking to hear about workers who are still not receiving information.”

According to the latest data available, New York had 33,000 farms in 2017, according to the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, with sales of $5.7 billion.

Rather than voluntary measures to provide masks, hand sanitizer and testing, more specificity is necessary, worker representatives said.

Farm workers cannot access testing, and if they are asymptomatic, are unable to afford testing, worker representatives said. Maxwell wants the state to establish mobile testing units that can travel to sites for comprehensive free testing. Further, she asks the state Legislature adopt a consistent set of standards and enforcement measures for employers who disregard basic protection measures.

“Workers are not receiving the protection they need,” Maxwell said.

Of the 5 million coronavirus cases reported in the United States, 41,000 were in the meatpacking industry, 8,000 in food processing and 6,000 farm workers, according to the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

Via AP StoryShare

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