Seasonal farm workers don’t always get a lot of respect and during a pandemic, you probably can double-down on that.
Stories abounded a few weeks ago about some farms refusing to allow workers to be tested for COVID-19.
That can have dire consequences. Many migrants work next to each other and live in cramped quarters. Moreover, some migrants arrive in New Jersey from southern states where the virus has been spiking.
Gov. Phil Murphy has deplored lack of testing the few times the issue popped up at his regular briefings. And today, the Senate Committee on Economic Growth began an effort to do something about it.
The committee with bipartisan support endorsed two bills related to testing and farm worker safety.
One would allot $5 million from the federal CARES act to pay for personal protection equipment for farm workers.
The other would designate farm workers as having the highest priority for testing.
Supporters said at a hearing today in Trenton that the bills are essential for the health of workers and also consumers, who eventually eat what farm employees produce and handle.
Statements of support from farm workers were read at the hearing. One worker’s statement said owners consider farm employees “invisible” and care only about their work.
“They want us to do the job, they don’t think about us,” is how “Jose,” a farm worker in Cumberland County put it.
Another worker said that while farming is considered an “essential” service, many employers don’t look at their workers as “essential” people.
An opponent of the legislation was Paul Hlubik, a farmer and a member of the state Board of Agriculture.
He said he worried that the requirements would inevitably lead to higher costs for employers and put jobs in jeopardy. He also had concerns that the farm industry was being singled out for regulation.