A coalition has formed to demand that Foster Farms protect its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 30 people from various organizations gathered on Sept. 24 at the Foster Farms plant in Livingston, Calif., where more than nine employees have lost their lives to COVID-19 and more than 350 have been infected.
The aim of the rally was to demand action be taken to correct the injustices committed against Foster Farms workers. Beyond the unacceptable loss of workers’ lives Foster Farms is not informing workers in different languages about the dangers of COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves. Workers have been coerced by management to work while they are sick, further endangering lives.
The action, initiated by the group Central Valley vs COVID, was endorsed by ILWU Local 34, Labor Council For Latin American Advancement Sacramento Chapter, Committee To Stop Police Terror and Systemic Racism, United Front Committee for a Labor Party, ANSWER and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The United Farm Workers had members present to show support. According to a UFW coordinator in attendance, the UFW represents approximately 2,000 Foster Farms workers.
Former workers were able to speak and talk about their experiences working for Foster Farms. A common theme was that they were afraid of contracting COVID-19 and then going home and infecting their families. They feel Foster Farms has treated them as disposable.
The action laid out four specific demands: (1) The emergency hiring of 1,000 Cal-OSHA inspectors with proper pay and benefits to keep them. (2) Rank-and-file health and safety committees at the plant with the power to shut down the jobs if workers do not have safe conditions. (3) Full health care coverage and sick pay for workers and their families who have become sick and contaminated by the company, and full payment for the funerals of workers and family members who die from COVID-19. (4) Criminal prosecution of the Foster Farm executives by the Merced County district attorney and state attorney general of Foster Farm and other companies for the deaths of the workers and workers comp fraud for refusing to provide workers compensation.
One of the event’s co-organizers with Central Valley vs COVID stressed the importance of people knowing where their food comes from and that this is not just about one company. He stated: “This is a nationwide issue that affects all citizens. Workers supply food for people all over the world. Just because individuals aren’t dealing with the effects of COVID-19 doesn’t mean it’s not real because the workers are currently dealing with the consequences.”
Photos by Jonathon Flores