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UFW Foundation steps up for WA’s essential farm workers

Foundation distributing masks, emergency relief funds amid COVID-19


The following is from the UFW Foundation:

YAKIMA (Sept. 17, 2020) — Recognizing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Latinos and field workers across the nation and in Washington state, the UFW Foundation—a nonprofit, 501(c)3 sister organization to the United Farm Workers—has deployed staff in communities across the state to help provide emergency relief assistance for agricultural workers.

UFW Foundation emergency relief coordinators and organizers at a Yakima mask distribution event.

“The United Farm Workers has to date established a binding rule to protect farm workers from the coronavirus, but there’s so much more work to do to ensure enforcement of this rule,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “Farm workers continue risking their lives as they work through a pandemic and wildfires to keep America fed. The UFW Foundation is proud to expand our emergency services and resources to Washington state workers because we know all workers deserve relief assistance and support during these challenging times. As we provide needed resources to farm workers such as food, masks and financial aid during this pandemic, we also continue advocating at the state and federal levels to ensure field laborers receive essential worker hazard pay, emergency sick leave and other benefits they deserve. Farm workers are always essential and they should be treated as such.”

The UFW Foundation has already distributed more than 24,000 N-95 and cloth face masks to farm workers in Eastern Washington through its Essential Farm Worker Project. Under this effort, the UFW Foundation is hosting on-the-ground mask distributions and outreach about farm worker rights related to COVID-19 and beyond. Washington-based emergency relief coordinators will continue to host mask distribution events passing out thousands of masks each week in rural farm communities.

The UFW Foundation is also providing more than $5 million in financial assistance with at least 10,000 undocumented agricultural workers in Washington state receiving one-time $502.50 prepaid cards if they meet requirements. Altogether, more than $11 million in financial aid and 900,000 face masks will be given out to farm workers in Washington, California and Oregon. For more information about the UFW Foundation’s Essential Farm Worker Project, farm workers can text the word Essential (in Spanish, “Esencial”) to 877-877 to enroll in the UFW Foundation’s text messaging program.

“As we distribute masks and vital information about current protections for farm workers, we continue to hear that employers are not providing the appropriate masks, if any at all,” said UFW Foundation Emergency Relief Coordinator Zaira Sanchez. “This is concerning – farm workers lack protections from the pandemic and wildfires. Workers are experiencing burning and itchy throats and eyes, not to mention the constant fear of contracting COVID-19.”

“Farm workers should receive free masks from their employers to protect themselves from the hazardous conditions they face as essential workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 and wildfires,” said state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle). “I am grateful that the UFW Foundation, a non-profit organization, is willing to fill in that gap and assist farm workers with basic health necessities by distributing thousands of masks and informing workers about their rights. I look forward to having the UFW Foundation to be part of a growing farm worker-centered effort to push for stronger policy and enforcement here in Washington state.”

UFW Foundation will soon pivot to focus on ensuring compliance with the state’s rules while distributing cash assistance, including informing farm workers about paid sick leave during COVID-19 and assisting workers in documenting and filing workplace violation claims if their rights are abridged.

“In this time of crisis—with the pandemic and now fires and smoke filling the air at many worksites—farm workers need the support of an organization like the UFW Foundation,” said Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

The UFW Foundation advocates for labor rights and protections for farm workers across the U.S., including overtime pay, heat protection standards and legalization. As the largest immigration legal services provider in rural California, UFW Foundation understands the needs of undocumented immigrants, especially as they have been excluded from pandemic relief assistance. In rural California, UFW Foundation has also worked with its sister organizations in distributing 189,000 freshly-prepared meals and more than 24,000 emergency food boxes.

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