Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Agriculture Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced a bill called the FARM (Frontline At-Risk Manual) Laborers Protection Act, which would establish hazard pay and 10 days of paid leave to agricultural workers. In a press release, he claimed the lack of protective measures and paid leave is contributing to outbreaks of COVID-19 among essential workers, particularly farmworkers. 

“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.”

The Families First Coronavirus Act has already expanded paid sick leave for workers at locations with over 50 employees, but 96.6 percent of farms don’t fit in that category, according to the release. 

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined in sponsoring the bill. If passed, the bill would provide 10 days of paid sick leave to agricultural workers and an additional hazard pay of $13 per hour. It would also provide grants to producers to help purchase handwashing stations and other personal protective equipment for their employees. 

“This legislation will help protect the frontline agricultural workers who labor every day so we can all put food on the kitchen table,” said Blumenthal. “No matter how big or small an agricultural business is, their workers should be protected from the deadly spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Farmworkers & Latinx Working Families United Executive Director Reyna Lopez Osuna said this bill shows agricultural workers that the nation is not giving up on them. It acknowledges how necessary their work is and allows time off to quarantine if there is an outbreak. “In order for the CDC guidelines to be successfully implemented at work sites, we must be set up to succeed with resources for toilets, handwashing stations, and other logistics. We’re grateful to Senator Merkley, and other leaders for stepping up,” said Osuna.