Coronavirus pay raise proposed for farmworkers

Farmworkers would gain a $13-an-hour hazardous-duty pay raise and 10 days of paid sick leave under a bill filed by six Democratic senators on Tuesday. The bill also would provide grants to farmers and ranchers eligible so they can pay the higher wages and purchase hand washing stations and personal protective equipment to reduce the risk to employees of exposure to the coronavirus.

“These workers feed our families. Now it’s our job to make sure they have the protections they need to stay safe,” said lead sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat. Other sponsors were Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The senators released the bill in advance of negotiations that could result in a broad coronavirus-relief bill in early July. Leahy is the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, which played a key role in previous coronavirus bills. Merkley is the Democratic leader on the subcommittee that oversees USDA and FDA spending.

Besides pandemic pay and paid sick leave, the bill would require employers to take efforts to avoid layoffs and follow CDC guidelines to protect workers from the virus. The Labor Department has declined to issue mandatory safety rules.

Two food and agriculture unions, the United Farm Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers, supported the bill, along with the Teamsters, several farm worker groups, and the Environmental Working Group.

A summary of the bill is available here.