Things That Matter

More Than A Million Farmworkers Are Putting Themselves At Risk During The Coronavirus Pandemic And Here’s Why

Spring is peak farming season across the United States and it’s coming just as the Coronavirus is tearing its way across the country – impacting communities across all fifty states. With such a high demand for agricultural workers, thousands of foreign guest workers are descending on farm fields to join a labor force that has endured the hardships of crowded boarding houses, law enforcement raids, and indentured servitude for generations.

But now the workers who are critical to the nation’s food supply will face a nemesis they’ve never encountered.

Because of the Coronavirus, millions of people have been ordered to stay at home – but farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and still have to work.

States like California have told residents to stay home because of the threat of COVID-19, but thousands of farmworkers are still showing up at work — while also worrying that their employers are not doing enough to protect or support them.

More than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown in California. Stay-at-home orders in California exempt farmworkers as essential employees. But many are undocumented, lack health insurance and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance or federal COVID-19 relief, placing the state’s estimated workforce of 420,000 in a vulnerable position.

So far, employers are doing little to protect or even inform their workers of precautions and protective measures.

Credit: @TomasOvalle / Twitter

According to a statement to NBC News from Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer at United Farm Workers, an overwhelming majority of farmworkers have not heard from their employers. “That’s really discouraging,” he said. “It’s not costing them anything except a little bit of care, a little bit of time.”

“We need to care about these workers that are doing that hard work, heavy work, dignified work, professional work,” said Elenes. “They’re the backbone of the food supply chain.”

The latest Economic Policy Institute report suggests growers “should also provide health insurance and paid sick days.”

Meanwhile, many farmworkers are already considered at high-risk for complications related to a Coronavirus infection.

Farm workers are an ageing labor force facing higher rates of respiratory disease and hypertension: all factors that would put them at greater risk for more deadly Covid-19 complications. And the masks that shield them from dust and pesticides, and that would also protect against the virus, are now in short supply for frontline workers across the world.

If they are unfortunate enough to fall ill with Covid-19, farm workers would qualify for the additional sick leave provided through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the national legislation that expanded paid leave amid the Covid-19 crisis, but most would probably struggle to pay the resulting healthcare costs. Many farm workers have no health insurance.

Organizations across the country are coming to defend farmworkers and demand protections.

The explosive growth of the novel coronavirus prompted one of the nation’s oldest farm labor organizations on Monday to push for new safety standards for thousands of the workers and demand that growers provide medical care during outbreaks.

“If it reaches the agricultural community, it will devastate them,” said Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. “There won’t be a safety net,” he told Buzzfeed News.

Velasquez, who founded the advocacy group in 1967, said he is requesting that workers abide by social distancing rules, request isolation quarters if they get sick, and ensure their employers take them to hospitals.

If the growers refuse, Velasquez, who has led farm labor strikes, said his group is prepared to file lawsuits. “These are among the most vulnerable workers in the country,” he told Buzzfeed News. “It’s a national problem.”

The recent stimulus bill passed by Congress could offer some hope to a minority of farmworkers.

Credit: Ariana Drehlser / Getty

Lawmakers signed a $3 trillion stimulus package last week to combat the coronavirus. While the aid will help many families, it excludes many farmworkers.

At least 50 percent of all farmworkers are undocumented, according to United Farm Workers. Even though the government considers them essential workers, they will most likely be ineligible for the relief payment most U.S. households will receive.

The bill does provide that guest workers receive emergency sick pay — but it’s up to the farmers to provide protections, including social distancing and any facilities they build for quarantine.

If there’s any positive out of this, it’s that people may start caring more about farmworkers rights.

The coronavirus crisis prompted renewed attention to farmworkers’ critical role as residents often find empty supermarket shelves cleaned out by people stockpiling food supplies and sheltering in place.

These workers are essential today to the food supply — they’ve always been, but now there’s a new level of light shining on them. If people are fighting over toilet paper, imagine if they had to fight for food.

This Latino Comic Book, ‘El Peso Hero’ Is Paying Tribute To Essential Workers And It’s Exactly What We Need Right Now

Culture

This Latino Comic Book, ‘El Peso Hero’ Is Paying Tribute To Essential Workers And It’s Exactly What We Need Right Now

El Paso Hero / Rio Bravo Comics

If the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that real-life heroes can be found all over. During the global crisis, regular people have realized that everyone from a fast food restaurant worker to a farmworker is a hero in their own way. It’s these people, many of whom are minorities, who have helped keep the country going during these unprecedented times. To so many of us, these front-line ‘essential workers’ are indeed heroes.

One Mexican-American comic book creator, Hector Rodriguez (of El Peso Hero) decided to put these real-life superheroes on the pages of his popular comic book and we couldn’t be more excited.

The best-selling comic book now features America’s front-line workers as the real heroes who are keeping the country running.

Credit: El Peso Hero / Rio Bravo Comics

Comic books are known for telling larger than life stories and inspiring their audiences – and that’s exactly what El Peso Hero is doing with his latest edition. Rodriguez is using El Peso Hero to tell the story of thousands of invisible workers – many of whom are undocumented Latino workers holding America together.

“Comic books are a great way to help people connect,” Rodríguez told NBC News. “But very few stories focus on the people who are feeding us.”

In this special pandemic issue, which is available for free, “El Peso Hero” takes a supporting role to a nurse and other essential workers facing tough day-to-day challenges as the country struggles to combat Covid-19.

In his interview with NBC News, Rodriguez said he hopes his comic can inspire Americans to reimagine themselves in the stories of millions of invisible workers who serve their communities.

It’s more important than ever to shine a light on the often invisible workers who are so vital to this country.

Credit: Salud America / Twitter

For Rodriguez, he hopes this edition will help shed light on the hard work and dedication of millions of invisible workers. People from all backgrounds can find common ground with these front-line workers who like so many Americans are simply trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.

“This is definitely a contrast from “El Peso Hero” fighting corruption, drug cartels, and racism on the border,” Rodríguez said. “Fans will see him in a supporting role to real-life heroes, helping a nurse bring medical masks to agricultural workers, and deliver a much needed message of solidarity and positivity to a community that is often marginalized in the shadows.”

Rodríguez himself comes from a family of immigrants — his grandfather moved from Mexico to Montana in the 1940s as a part of the Bracero Program, which brought in millions of authorized workers from Mexico to the U.S. to work on farms.

What inspired the El Peso Hero comic book series to begin with?

Credit: Rio Bravo Comics

El Peso Hero is a rogue hero standing up to Mexico’s cartels, corrupt border officials, and human traffickers.

Rodriguez told NBC News, “I wanted to create someone like Luke Cage in Harlem, but living in between southwest Texas and north Mexico, who fights cartels, and defends unaccompanied minors and families crossing the perilous border.”

It was stories his grandfather told about drug traffickers attacking vulnerable immigrants on the border that inspired him to create “El Peso Hero.”

“El Peso Hero” started off as a web comic in 2011, and is now scheduled to make its movie screen debut in 2021. The comic gained cross-border fame in 2015 after the Mexican superhero took on then presidential candidate Donald Trump — who started his campaign by saying Mexicans coming to the U.S. were rapists and criminals

This edition of El Peso Hero is so important and special given the bravery and selflessness of front-line workers.

Credit: Tom Barton / Getty

Across the country, millions of Latino workers, many of whom are undocumented, are working on farms, in meat packing plants and govern stores as “essential workers,” while much of the country is shut down for quarantine. Unlike many workers, they don’t have the privilege to work from home and instead are putting themselves and their families at risk to keep the country going.

Historically they are marginalized as outsiders and live in constant fear of deportation. But now the pandemic is showing how vital they really are to society.

The U.S. government calculates that roughly half of all crop farmworkers—1.18 million in 2019—are undocumented. A recent article from The New York Times reports that growers and labor contractors think it could be closer to 75 percent.

Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

Things That Matter

Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

Sergio Maldonado / Getty

On paper, Mexico has seemed to largely escape the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although its leaders came under fire from many at the beginning of the outbreak, the healthcare system hasn’t collapsed and in many parts of the country, it’s largely been business as usual.

However, officials are warning that as the economic impacts of the pandemic begin to take hold, the country could be in store for a very violent 2020. And this dire warning comes as Mexico is already experiencing it’s deadliest year in modern history, unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Even with Coronavirus restrictions, deadly violence continues to rise in Mexico.

Officials had thought that with Coronavirus-related restrictions in place, much of the widespread violence that plagues the country would gradually be reduced as more people stayed at home. But with the 6,000 homicides between March and April, 2020 is shaping up to be the deadliest year in modern Mexican history – just after 2019 claimed the top spot last year.

So far in 2020, homicides have climbed by 2.4% in the first four months of the year, compared to 2019. In the first four months of this year, 11,535 murders were registered, up from 11,266 homicide in same period last year, preliminary data from the security ministry showed. Just over 34,600 murders were logged in Mexico in all of last year.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to bring down gang-fueled violence afflicting Mexico when he took office in December 2018, but homicides hit a record level in 2019 and have continued to climb even during the Coronavirus lockdown.

And now as the country begins to find a ‘new normal’ and slowly reopen, officials are warning that the situation will only get worse.

Credit: Henry Romero / Getty

Speaking at a “justice, transparency and Covid-19” conference, Santiago Nieto, the head of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit, bluntly declared that an economic and security “crisis is obviously coming.”

He predicted that burglaries, financial fraud, human trafficking and child pornography offenses will be among the crimes that will increase. Mexico’s court system will consequently come under significant pressure, Nieto said.

For his part, the head of the Federal Protection Service, a division of the Security Ministry, told the newspaper El Universal that Mexico is likely to go through a “very rough” period of insecurity in the next three to six months.

Although the economic losses haven’t been as severe as in the U.S., Mexico was already in a precarious economic situation before the pandemic.

So far, the pandemic has left more than 750,000 Mexicans without work in the formal sector – this isn’t including the roughly 60% of Mexican society that works in the informal economy. And analysts and financial institutions are forecasting that the economy will suffer a deep recession in 2020.

Commissioner Manuel Espino Barrientos said the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn caused by the mitigation measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus will leave Mexico in a “very complicated” security situation.

Violence and crime will increase because a lot of people “will not find work but they will be hungry,” Espino said.

Despite the economic downturn, a new poll shows that a majority of Mexicans support further extending strict stay-at-home orders.

Although Mexico’s President AMLO has repeatedly stated that the country’s Coronavirus pandemic is under control, that’s not what most Mexicans feel, according to a new poll.

Conducted by the newspaper El Financiero on May 22 and 23, the poll found that 52% of those polled believe that the Coronavirus situation has not been controlled.

Participants were then asked to offer an opinion on the government’s coronavirus mitigation measures, and 64% of poll respondents said that more restrictions should be enforced and stay-at-home orders/recommendations should be extended.