Hundreds of workers at Washington State fruit packing warehouses are being sent back to work where workers say they aren’t being adequately protected from COVID-19. The strike first started on May 7 when workers walked out of Allan Brothers after management attempted to conceal information after 12 workers tested positive for the virus. Soon after, six more fruit packing facilities; Matson Fruit, Jack Frost Fruit, Monson Fruit, Columbia Reach, Madden Fruit, and Cold Storage followed suit.
The workers, like many others across the country, demanded PPE, along with safer working conditions, pay raises, and the protection to organize. These workers are negotiating with management. The workers have been advised thus far by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), a small union affiliated with the AFL-CIO Washington Labor Council, and are now overseeing the agreements with the companies.
Without being members of a union, these workers are being sent back to work on empty promises of worker protection from company executives. These agreements include protections that were allegedly supposed to be in place when the COVID-19 pandemic began but were never implemented. According to workers, they have not received any kind of compensation aside from $20 a week extra.
More than half of these farmworkers are migrants that are in the country on temporary H-2A visas and the Trump administration used the pandemic to lower the wages of H-2A workers. The working and living conditions agricultural workers face make them especially susceptible to contracting COVID-19. These agricultural workers deal with poverty wages, made worse by the administration’s attack on H-2A workers, they live in barracks built by the companies, work in unsafe conditions, eat their meals in large communal areas, work long hours, and travel to and from work in large groups.
There have been multiple deaths and untold numbers of infections in workplaces across the country including among migrant workers. With no legal protections and many unions fighting to keep these workers separate from other warehouse and agricultural workers, the bravery to stand up and say the lives of myself and my family are more important than your profits, is incredible.