Latino farmworkers and US food supply at high risk for lack of safety protection

The number of latino farmworkers who have died due to COVID-19 at a Colorado meat plant rose to four last week, and a fifth meat worker at a Cargill facility in Fort Morgan has also died of the disease. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health 102 employees at the JBS plant in Greeley have now tested positive for COVID-19, while four have died.

At least three of those deaths have been Latino workers: Saul Sanchez, 78, Eduardo Conchas de la Cruz, 60, and Tibursio Rivera López, 69. The tragic deaths and the outbreaks at this and other meat plants across the country are raising alarms about the safety and the vulnerability of the nation’s food supply and the workers.

From the Latino media organization REMEZCLA:

Across the country, Latinos are still supplying labor for agricultural industries, farms, and processing plants, forming the infrastructure and driving the food supply Americans need in order to survive the current pandemic. However, as NBC Latino reports this week, several deaths in meat processing plants highlight the precarious position many workers are putting themselves in to do their jobs. Three workers—Saul Sanchez, 78, Eduardo Conchas de la Cruz, 60, and Tibursio Rivera López, 69—died this month after contracting coronavirus at a plant in Greelay, Colorado.

Their deaths led the plant to shut down for mandatory cleanings and worker screenings. It also stoked worries about what would happen to the country’s food supply if more workers get sick, but the bigger takeaway should be that the conditions for these employees remain hazardous. Advocates have urged employees to provide more masks, gloves and other protective material, plus coronavirus tests and benefits such as paid leave and assistance, in order to risk the spread of the virus and show a commitment to worker safety.

“These are essential frontline workers. They are just as important as doctors and nurses, but they are not being treated that way,” Domingo Garcia, president of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) civil rights group, told reporters this week, according to NBC.