State labor agencies have initiated a “Know Your Worker Rights” drive as a proactive and creative approach to educate and engage hard-to-reach residents who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic including farmworkers and other agricultural workers.
On March 8, a roundtable discussion took place at the Carpenters Local 701 union hall in Fresno outlining workers’ rights, demystifing processes and providing feedback to state bureaucracies. The dialogue among state agencies, workers and community advocacy groups included how workers can maintain safety and health in the workplace, especially in the food and agricultural industries.
Entering the third year of living with the global Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that this disease will not be eradicated anytime soon and that both employers and state agencies must be fluid in meeting workers’ needs.
The roundtable launched the Worker Week of Action for the COVID-19 Workplace Outreach Project, which helps increase awareness of the resources provided by various agencies.
The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA), the Department of Industrial Relations, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and Cal/OSHA, along with the UC Merced and Community Labor Center, collaborated on the Worker Week of Action. The roundtable was attended by 14 Central Valley advocacy groups capable of supporting vulnerable workers in communities with limited resources in the event they fall ill to Covid-19.
Itxel De La Cruz Miguel, a seasonal produce picker and a United Farm Worker leader, found the roundtable discussion empowering, “I was very happy to hear there’s a lot of interest in helping people who work in the field like me.”
Employed by Gargiulo Inc. in Firebaugh, De La Cruz Miguel left the roundtable with information to help her educate coworkers on supplemental paid sick leave, workplace health and safety, retaliation, PPE (personal protective equipment), and worker leave and pay benefits.
“A lot of [my] coworkers don’t realize they have rights,” explains De La Cruz Miguel. “Sometimes they don’t have the information or know the right person that can help them. [Workers’ livelihoods] depend on staying Covid-safe and healthy.”
More than 100 organizations throughout the state will be awarded $17.3 million to “support community engagement, public health education and encourage Covid-19 vaccination among those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”
Valley Forward, the education and outreach arm of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council, is one of 14 Central Valley community-based organizations awarded funds to disseminate worker rights materials.
Valley Forward’s team of nearly 30 outreach specialists plans to canvass door-to-door in small rural towns that often have a high density of monolingual, migrant, farmworker communities.
“We hope to achieve community empowerment,” explains Reyes Ubiedo, the program manager for Valley Forward.
“Covid hit every community hard, but it disproportionately hit the farmworker community the hardest. This outreach program will help mitigate Covid infections and help workers speak out for their rights.”
The network and connections the organization has at its disposal include referral to legal agencies, the Consulate of Mexico, state labor agencies and tech-savvy students who can provide helpful digital resources to workers who might not be comfortable with technology.
Organizations across the state are launching outreach programs to meet their communities where they live in difficult-to-reach cities, communities and even desolate locations.
They will speak the languages that their target communities speak, armed with the experience of how to engage residents in a culturally relevant manner and respectfully provide resources that keep workers Covid-safe and abreast of their rights as workers in California.
“I learned that we have a strong coalition,” Reyes reflected after the roundtable.
“It’s an opportunity to ask the direct questions our community has been asking them and pass them directly to the source of those regulations and bridge the gap between the community and state agencies.”