¡Buenos días, folks!

Did you know this week was Workers’ Memorial Week? Yup! Worker’s Memorial Week happens annually, with different regions hosting events daily to acknowledge and pay tribute to the workers who have died from illness or injuries because of unsafe working conditions; with this year highlighting COVID-19 deaths.

This week, President Biden proclaimed April 28 Workers’ Memorial Day. Community advocates from Valley Voices, The Jakara Movement and Lideres Campesinas in a statewide collaboration with Worksafe, SoCalCosh, Warehouse Worker Resource Center, MCTF, among many other organizations united on Wednesday evening at the Old Kings County Courthouse to pay tribute to workers in the Central Valley who have lost their lives to unsafe working conditions. They also called on state, county, and city officials as well as employers in the Central Valley to take the proper measures to improve workplace safety and OSHA to strengthen enforcement of health and safety laws to protect workers.

Claudia Medina, a resident from Lemoore, shared her personal story of loss. Claudia tragically lost her husband, Pedro Cruz, to COVID-19. Pedro was a local farm worker who worked hard every day since coming to the US in 1988. Claudia says the best advice she can give folks who are working in a place that does not have COVID safety measures in place, is to just not go; it is not worth it. She says her husband was afraid to miss work for fear of losing his job and ultimately the means to provide for his family. Their story is painful, but not unique.

The Central Valley has always had high rates of worker injuries, illness and deaths because of the many high-risk industries such as meat processing, agriculture, manufacturing and warehousing. Within the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic added to these high risks — with many outbreaks and worker deaths affecting our essential workers who have worked on the frontlines. Approximately 5,000 workers die of traumatic injury on the job every year and approximately 95,000 die from workplace contracted illnesses. But no public agency is tracking COVID-19 deaths contracted at work, and there are still no mandated OSHA COVID protections for workers.  We know a rise in workplace reports of unsafe conditions also means a rise in deaths in the surrounding community. To control COVID, we need safe workplaces!

The Central Valley has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and communities most affected have been communities of color. Why? Think about who picks and packs our fruits and vegetables? Who processes and packs your meat products? Who is working in manufacturing and in warehouses? Folks who belong to Latine, Black, Indigenous & Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. These same communities are largely underserved and suffer from disparities in health care and accessibility to vital information; especially where there is a language barrier. Locally, Valley Voices, a non-profit organization based in Hanford, has been working hard to connect with folks in our community to provide them with literature about COVID-19, COVID worker rights, giving out free PPE and even assisting with COVID vaccine appointment registration.

The Valley Voices team is at Alma’s Flea Market aka “The Monday Sale” every week. You can also find them on social media their handle is @valleyvoices2020.

We know misinformation and health disparities have serious implications on our BIPOC communities. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is 1.9 times as high for Black people as White people, and 2.3 times as high for the Latine population. These deaths will have lasting effects on these families, far more than losing a loved one. For a single income household, losing their loved one who was also the family source of income could mean they now are in jeopardy of losing their housing, ability to feed and clothe their families. Many of our neighbors in Kings County feared losing their livelihoods and homes during the stay-at-home order due to loss of income from their businesses being closed; please reflect on that fear you felt and realize that became the reality of an overwhelming number of California residents who were essential workers during this pandemic.

Ivette Stafforini is a business owner and community organizer based in Hanford. 

Want to share your story? Have any questions? Email Ivette at: ivettestafforini@gmail.com

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