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Davis, California

Saturday, September 25, 2021

UC Davis launches a $3 million project for farmworkers

The project provides resources about farmworkers’ rights and COVID-19 spread prevention for farmworkers in their languages, as well as for distributors, employers and others in the agricultural industry

In a $3 million contract with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, UC Davis’ Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety has been teaming up with different community-based organizations across California to provide resources and educational training to farmworkers in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“Our team will work directly with community organizations who are trusted by farmworkers and have already been assisting them throughout this COVID-19 crisis,” said Heather Riden, the program director at the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, in a UC Davis press release. “Our goal is to amplify their efforts and help them build capacity as they continue to provide critical COVID safety information to their communities.”

According to Berkeley News, 46,000 agricultural workers in California tested positive for COVID-19, and in a study conducted by UC Berkeley, 20% of the 1,091 farm workers recruited for the study tested positive for COVID-19. 

“You’re looking generally at very low-income communities in rural spaces where there is difficulty [accessing] services of any kind,” said Sebastian Sanchez, the associate secretary for Farmworker Liaison and Immigrant Services at the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. “You add to that the type of work and the close-living and transportation conditions, and it was a [perfect storm for COVID-19 exposure].”

In the same study, it was found that 50% of those who had symptoms still reported going to work, despite California offering paid time off for those affected. 

“There’s a lack of information, and it’s information that is [applicable] to farmworkers,” Sanchez said. “A large percentage of the farmworker population [is] undocumented and living paycheck to paycheck. There’s a real concern about losing work and losing employment. There’s three things that we are trying to prioritize: what are their rights to health and safety [work standards], what are their rights to paid sick leave and what are their rights to retaliation if an employer does punish the worker or fires them, cuts their hours or cuts their pay.”

Teresa Andrews, an education and outreach specialist for the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, credits this lack of educational awareness to language barriers. By teaming up with different community-based organizations, Andrews and her team have been able to provide resources on farmworkers’ rights and COVID-19 spread prevention for farmworkers, distributors, employers and others in the agricultural industry in their respective first languages.

One key organization for communicating directly with farmworkers has been Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO), located in Fresno, CA.

“We have been working closely with them, and they help us to decide effective material,” Andrews said. “[Most of these indigenous languages] are not written; they’re starting to have a written language, but most of them [are] just verbal. The [CBDIO] wrote scripts. We helped them to polish the scripts, and then they created videos. Those videos have been widely distributed among the indigenous farmworkers so it’s a very effective way because it’s a person looking and speaking like they do, so it’s more likely that [the information] is going to be understood and absorbed.” 

CBDIO has been partnering with different community-based groups across California, with teams reaching farmworkers in Imperial Valley, Salinas, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Napa Valley and more. Those that have not personally received a video are still being reached through a radio station called Radio Bilingüe. 

“[Farmworkers] have a radio in the fields, so when we are speaking on the radio we are getting messages across,” Andrews said. 

Along with the community-based organizations focusing on reaching employees, some of the employer groups collaborating with CBDIO’s team include the California Farmworker Contract Association, AgSafe and Farm Employers Labor Service. 

In terms of physical, non-media outreach, the team has reached over 60,000 people through material handout, in-person conversations, trainings and more. They have also been conducting educational webinars where farmworkers and others can sign up online. They focus on COVID-19 safety standards and workplace protocols, with up-to-date discussion on the vaccine and where farmworkers can access it. Other resources are also available on their website

“There are different resources at the state and county levels because this is a community health issue,” Andrews said. “If we don’t take care of a specific group, the whole community is affected.”
Written by: Annette Campos — campus@theaggie.org


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