As Covid-19 cases spike, an unprecedented alliance races to protect California farmworkers

An outbreak of the novel coronavirus among farmworkers in California’s Salinas Valley spawned a coalition of former adversaries that is racing to safeguard both the workers and the farms where they work, as Liza Gross reports in FERN’s latest story, published with Univision.

The alliance, known as the Monterey County Coalition of Agriculture, includes growers, advocates, researchers, doctors and public officials. “Usually we work at odds with a lot of the ag employer community because we’re alleging they violated the law and are asking them to do better by their workers,” said Aaron Voit, who runs a medical-legal partnership for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) to improve farmworkers’ living and working conditions. “But we’ve been able to collaborate through this coalition.”

As Gross writes, “The alliance began to coalesce in early April, about a month after California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency to prepare for the pandemic. It has picked up members and momentum ever since. Now dozens of representatives from the farming and public-health communities are scrambling to make up for lost time.

“Their challenge is daunting. They need to prepare for a potential surge in cases as thousands of seasonal workers arrive for the summer harvest; find ways to deliver effective messages to workers who speak only Spanish or Indigenous languages; and figure out how to ensure that sick workers receive follow-up care.

“Yet already the alliance, which now includes most major Monterey County grower organizations, has distributed hundreds of thousands of masks—750,000 in May alone—secured hotels for emergency quarantine housing, and won an $880,000 grant to increase testing.”