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'No campaign to protect the workers' | Farm worker safety troubles advocates

California Farm Bureau Federation says it has issued directives to educate its members on farm worker safety with the coronavirus.

STOCKTON, Calif. — While the majority of the San Joaquin Valley harvest season has yet to begin, it will need farm workers soon in a world turned upside down by the coronavirus.

"There is no campaign from growers or labor contractors to try to protect the workers," said Stockton farm worker advocate Luis Magana.

Magana says not enough is being done to educate field workers on washing their hands or practicing social distancing.

With masks in short supply, he worries that, when crops get sprayed, there won't be enough protection.

He says, if an undocumented farm worker is sick, there are no unemployment benefits. That means less incentive to stay home and not get paid.

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"They depend on check by check or paying cash everyday," added Magana.

But, the California Farm Bureau Federation says it is making efforts to ensure contractors and growers are educating their workers. Those efforts include directives on their website.

"We're looking for new materials, new resources and new ways to deliver those resources to our folks and our farming operations. Everybody needs to be better educated on this. Everybody needs to do a better job of taking care of their jobs and their families," said Bruce Blodgett, Executive Director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.

Another big concern is the labor shortage. 

With cherries set to be picked here in May, the workforce might be in question.

Magana says he is hearing about farm worker families staying in Mexico, due to fear over the coronavirus in the U.S.

"So, that will happen... We will have less workers in the field in the coming weeks, if this continues," said Magana.

Blodgett says a statewide survey a year ago showed that 80% of growers already said they experienced a worker shortage.

So, the possibility of the shortage getting worse is real.

"Ya know, we don't have the asparagus crop we used to, or we would already be seeing signs. But, when we get to that cherry harvest in May, that's when things are really gonna be really noticeable if we have a shortage," said Blodgett.

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