(By Dominica Navarro, Healthy People & Communities Program Coordinator)
During this new era of social distancing and working from home, my thoughts go out to those who are risking their lives on the frontlines. When it comes to keeping people safe during these trying times, it is the important work of essential employees that allows people to take refuge at home. With this added responsibility, it becomes our duty to ensure the highest degree of protection for essential workers. But what happens when some essential employees aren’t offered the protections available to others?
When we see a disproportionate rate of infection amongst the Latino population in Oregon, we must connect the dots. According to a recent Oregonian article, “two of Oregon’s biggest coronavirus hotspots are large counties that are major population centers for the state’s growing Latino population: Marion County, the state’s top ag producer, and Washington County, another leading agricultural center.”1 We must address the elephant in the room. We aren’t protecting Oregon’s farmworkers and their families.
Latinos in Oregon and across the country face undeniable discrimination in the workplace, often in hard, laborious jobs with dangerous workplace hazards that were present even before the recent outbreak of the coronavirus. Many Latinos hold low-paying positions, have unequal access to sick leave and health insurance, and may be battling to attain legal recognition, so it is no wonder why Latinos in Oregon are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Agricultural workers must, on any given day, fight for their rights to: safe working conditions, accurate and culturally-relevant information, personal protective equipment when applying toxic substances, access to hand washing facilities and a bathroom, fair housing, and a safe place to raise their children without the fear of pesticide drift exposure and contaminated water. How are these palpable injustices and workplace issues being addressed as we fight to stop the spread of this invisible virus? We must shine light on our nation's response.
In Oregon, NCAP has been in contact with the state’s regulating agencies to ensure that protections for agricultural workers are not weakened. Especially now, as we approach the onset of “pesticide application season” and a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), NCAP is dedicated to advancing protections for workers. We recognize the longstanding inequality in government response to unjust conditions, so we remain vigilant to ensure protective measures continue to be enforced.
Here are some of the responses we received regarding our concerns for farmworkers, applicators and continued workplace protections in the state of Oregon:
- ODA is still processing applications for and issuing pesticide applicator licenses. They are also still reviewing requests to register pesticide products, though there may be delays in processing.
- Many pesticide applicator license-testing facilities around the state are closed but there are a few open with more planning to open in April and May. Some recertification courses are being offered live via webinar.
- ODA anticipates a shortage in PPE this season and would like to remind applicators that pesticides may NOT be applied without label-required PPE and NO EXEMPTIONS or relaxations of the requirement has been made by the EPA. If you are planning on using pesticides this season and do not have access to the proper PPE, you must find an alternative product. Applicators may use protective equipment that offers more protection than required by the label, but NOT LESS.
- Investigations for pesticide related complaints and misuse are still happening throughout the state. The ODA Pesticide Enforcement Program is also enforcing applicator training, licensing and record keeping requirements.
- Employees are still exposed to hazards and it is still the employers’ responsibility to ensure that their employees are adequately protected from those hazards.
- OrOSHA is still conducting investigations of employee complaints. In fact, OrOSHA depends on employee complaints to address incidences of exposure to workplace hazards. Regardless of legal status, if you feel you have been subject to hazards in your workplace, please consider reporting it.
- For initial training requirements, those that the employer would ordinarily do in-house (such as hazard communication) must still be done as normal while keeping in mind social distancing. Annual trainings and re-certifications that expire between now and June 30 must either be done in-house or the employer must submit a declaration that such training is not feasible and will be scheduled after June 30.
- PPE requirements are still in effect. If you feel you have been exposed to pesticides on the job and afraid to go to the hospital, call your local healthcare provider first. (If you have limited access to healthcare and need help locating a community health clinic, please click here.)
- If you are an employer, remember to plan ahead. If you suspect you will not have access to PPE when it comes time to apply pesticides to your fields, you will need to plan to use an alternative product, as pesticides may NOT be applied without label-required PPE. NCAP can help you implement alternatives to pesticides to ensure the safety of your employees.
While exposure to workplace hazards and unjust health outcomes amongst vulnerable workers has been long written into American history, we cannot ignore the obvious. We must unite now, more than ever, to protect workers who are risking their lives during these uncertain times.
Here is how you can help:
- Donate money to worker relief efforts.
- Contact your legislators to let them know you stand with protecting essential workers, including vulnerable and immigrant communities, who have been left out of the federal stimulus package. Click for legislators' contact information: Oregon, Washington, Idaho
- If you or someone you know is looking for food assistance, help paying bills or any other free or reduced cost programs, please visit www.findhelp.org
- Share these important bilingual workplace resources:
- Bilingual employer resources for onsite COVID-19 trainings
- Bilingual resources for agricultural workers
- Infection prevention in agriculture
- Davis R. Oregon’s Latino population disproportionately hit hard by coronavirus cases. The Oregonian [Internet]. 2020 Apr 8 [accessed 2020 Apr 23]. Available from: https://www.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/2020/04/oregons-latino-population-disproportionately-hit-hard-by-coronavirus-cases.html