Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act Passes State Legislature, Safeguarding Food and Farm Workers During Enduring Pandemic

A victory for temporary emergency protections, bill passage signals that there is more work to be done in protecting food and farm workers

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Annapolis, MD — Today, the Maryland legislature gave final approval to the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act, which will now go to the Governor for his signature. The legislation is a victory for temporary emergency COVID-19 protections for essential workers, including food and farm workers who have been left out of Maryland workplace protections in the past. But the path to the bill’s passage, which removed many critical protections, underscored that there is more work to do.

The passage of the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act establishes an important emergency temporary standard to safeguard workers during the current pandemic, but fell short in securing that standard’s applicability for future crises. Other critical protections the legislature failed to enact include:

  • Migrant worker housing standards, necessary to ensure adequate living conditions for the extensive migrant food and farm worker population in Maryland’s agricultural sector.
  • Guaranteed paid sick leave 
  • Bereavement leave and
  • Hazard pay 

Advocates celebrate the passage of an emergency temporary standard that includes food and farm workers, and look ahead to the opportunity to further safeguard the rights of essential food and farm workers under Maryland state law.

“The Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act is the first in a long line of protections that the Maryland legislature must afford food and farm workers, and its passage underscores the work we still have to do,” said Lily Hawkins, Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “We will not stop pushing for critical workplace protections that safeguard the vulnerable essential workers who feed us.”

“Food and farmworkers should never have to choose between their paychecks and their safety. The Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act will require Governor Hogan to finally issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect these and all essential workers,” said Chloe Waterman, program manager with Friends of the Earth. “Thank you to Delegate Kris Valderrama and our other legislative champions for ensuring food and farmworkers have the protection they deserve.”

“COVID-19 has ripped the thin veil that had previously and conveniently shielded most Americans from the sordid working conditions of so many these essential workers endure each day,” says Amy Liebman, Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Programs for the Migrant Clinicians Network. “These workers need protection in order to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe. And our state needs to step in to ensure that the workers who put food on our tables are provided with necessary health care.” 

Not enough has been focused on measures that protect poultry, seafood and agricultural workers from getting COVID-19, many of whom are at heightened risk of dying from the infection. Their working, housing and transportation conditions and lack of paid quarantine and sick leave make it more likely they will be exposed to, and expose others to, this highly infectious disease,” says GWEN DUBOIS, M.D, President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and Board Member of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network. “We need to protect all members of our community, if we want to stay healthy.” 

“Thousands of migrant workers arrive in Maryland on temporary work visas and face trafficking and exploitation,” says Sulma Guzman, Policy Director & Legislative Counsel for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante. “We appreciate Delegate Vaughn Stewart for fighting for healthier employer provided housing and transportation for these workers, and look forward to working with the General Assembly to improve conditions for Maryland’s migrant workers next session.”

Contact:
Lily Hawkins, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]
Sulma Guzman, Policy Director & Legislative Counsel for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, [email protected]
Gwen DuBois, M.D., President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility,  [email protected]