food safety

Increased Risks and Fewer Jobs: Evidence of California Farm Employee Vulnerability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Today, the COVID-19 Farmworker Study Team announces the completion of statewide survey of more than 900 farmworkers in California, which provides unique insights into the experience of these essential workers during the pandemic.

Preliminary results from this unique study–the only statewide survey that gathered data directly from farmworkers currently working–will be released at a virtual press conference on July 28th, 2020 at 10 am PST. The results provide critical missing information on work site conditions and farmworkers’ abilities to protect themselves while continuing to work in California’s fields.

The COVID-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) coincides with new evidence indicating that agricultural workers have elevated vulnerability for contracting COVID-19 infection. Data compiled by the California Institute for Rural Studies show that as of June 30, 2020, California’s Monterey County agricultural workers were three times more likely to become infected by the virus than persons employed in the county’s non-agricultural industries.

Agricultural workers in California now face a double threat: the COVID-19 virus and loss of employment owing to the collapse of foodservice demand. New agricultural employment findings reveal a steep 39% decline from a 3-year average (2017-2019) in Monterey County agricultural employment during April, May and June 2020. Statewide, the decline was about 20% during April and May, accounting for nearly 100,000 jobs lost.1

COFS results add important detail to these data points, clarifying questions about how employers are protecting their workers, the barriers they face to accessing adequate healthcare and the precautions that concerned workers are taking to protect their families. The survey also revealed the workplace health and safety changes that workers would like to see implemented. One farmworker interviewed told us,

I have concerns about where I work because I don’t know if someone is sick and I feel insecure. If they were checking people before going to work that would help me feel more safe and could work without worry.”

1 Don Villarejo, July 2020

The COFS results were collected through phone interviews with more than 900 agricultural workers across 21 counties by 6 farmworker-serving organizations: Líderes Campesinas, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Alianza Ecologista, Farmworker Care Coalition/Vista Community Clinic, Comite Cívico del Valle and the Centro Binacional para el Desarollo Indígena. The phone interviews asked about workplace conditions related to COVID-19 prevention, transportation to/from work, housing conditions, access to medical care, and income issues.

Preliminary data is drawn from an initial analysis of a partial data set and will be presented in more detail at a virtual press release on Tuesday, July 28th at 10 am (see registration info below). Full data briefs on Workplace Conditions, Transportation, Housing, Healthcare Access and Economic Issues will be released throughout the summer.

To register for the Zoom webinar go to:

Registered participants will receive a press kit including the full Preliminary Data Brief and a CIRS Research Brief that describes the job loss and infection rate data in advance of the conference (available July 27 at 12pm).

Presentations by Ildi Carlisle-Cummins (California Institute for Rural Studies), Don Villarejo (Founder of CIRS), Nayamin Martinez (Central CA Environmental Justice Network), Fernando Serrano (Alianza Ecologista), Paola Illescas (Farmworker Care Coalition) and Oralia Maceda (Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena).