Gov. Hogan to Lift MD State of Emergency, Despite Lack of Food and Farm Worker Protections

After more than a year of pressure from workers and advocates, commonsense precautions still have not been put in place for food and farm workers

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Annapolis, MD — Tomorrow, July 1, Governor Hogan will lift the COVID-19 state of emergency in Maryland, opening up the economy without ever having put mandatory safety guidelines for the essential workers who keep Maryland running. Food and farm workers — who have labored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep grocery stores stocked and put food on the table for families across the state — still have not been afforded the protections needed in the face of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant and risk of future outbreaks.

“Food and farm workers in Maryland may seem invisible, because many live in rural areas and in employer-provided housing,” said Leila Borrero-Krouse, organizer and immigration Specialist for CATA Farmworker Support Committee. “But they are essential! Sadly, our state government has been treating them as expendable during this pandemic. These workers still lack basic protections, and face difficulties accessing vaccinations and transportation to COVID-19 testing. They are often afraid to speak up about these conditions for fear of losing their jobs or immigration status. It is shameful that the Hogan administration is lifting the state of emergency having done nothing for them.”

Maryland’s eastern shore counties, home to the state’s extensive agricultural and fishing industries, have some of the state’s lowest vaccination rates. The workplace struggles facing frontline food and farm workers have been extensively detailed, with everything from lack of medical leave to whistleblower retaliation limiting the ability for these workers to receive the protections they need to stay safe.

“These workers, largely excluded from basic workplace safety protections, will be laboring in fields and factories in communities with low vaccination rates while the incredibly infectious Delta variant spreads,” said Dr. Gwen DuBois, President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Without protective standards in place, their employers will be required to provide nothing to protect them. For food and farm workers, this pandemic is far from over. They will be exposed to this deadly virus, hot weather conditions, and pesticides – further weakening their ability to be safe. Since Maryland is collecting no data on their rate of infection, hospitalization and death, this injustice will be hidden from the public.”

Despite consistent advocate pressure, Governor Hogan has failed to enact a comprehensive plan to protect frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. After nearly a year of inaction that put thousands of workers at risk, the legislature passed the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act to safeguard workers during the state of emergency. With the lifting of the state of emergency, the bill’s most critical protections will not be enacted.

“We should not reopen Maryland without a comprehensive plan to safeguard food and farm workers,” said Lily Hawkins, Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer. “If we want to return to business as usual, we need to double down on ensuring that our most essential workers are kept safe. As Governor Hogan continues to fail workers, the General Assembly should prioritize passing legislation to establish permanent workplace protection standards for airborne disease transmission.” 

“Maryland’s food and farm workers deserve and need protection in order to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe,” said Amy Liebman, Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Programs for the Migrant Clinicians Network. “And our state needs to step in to ensure that the workers who put food on our tables are protected and provided a safe place to work.” 

“Governor Hogan has once again abdicated his duty to essential workers in Maryland,” said Chloe Waterman, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “By ending the state of emergency and unemployment benefits without any mandatory workplace safety standards, Governor Hogan is putting essential workers and our economy at risk.” 

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]