Maryland Weighs Legislation to Protect Food and Farm Workers Amid Pandemic

Katie Tracy
Katlyn Schmitt

Jan. 27, 2021

The Maryland General Assembly is kicking into full gear — and we at the Center for Progressive Reform are tracking bills that would protect the health and safety of Maryland workers in the food and farm sectors. These protections are urgently needed to protect these workers from COVID-19 infections and keep the public healthy and safe. The bills we're watching would:

  • Protect workers from disease

    Our nation's workers are going the extra mile to help us survive the pandemic. But Maryland isn't providing workers across the state with the protections they need to stay safe and healthy. Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would take a step in that direction. Del. Kriselda Valderrama (D) has introduced a bill (House Bill 124) that would require the state to adopt a temporary emergency standard to protect workers, including food and farm workers, from COVID-19. The bill would also require Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health division to adopt within six months a permanent standard to protect workers from airborne diseases.

    The bill includes a provision that would require Maryland companies to implement physical distancing and sanitation standards, properly ventilate facilities, provide workers with masks, gloves, and other equipment, and take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among food and farm workers. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for tomorrow, January 28.

  • Support migrant housing

    Workers in agricultural and meat processing industries, many of whom are migrants or employed on visas, are on the frontlines of the pandemic. They are also among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 because they lack adequate workplace and housing protections. Employers often transport them to work in crowded vehicles, house them in shoddy bunks and barracks, and don't give them the equipment and supplies they need to prevent infection.

    The Healthy Farmworkers Act (House Bill 577) would address these unsafe — and sometimes inhumane — conditions by requiring employers to provide food and farm workers with safe and healthy living and workplace conditions regardless of their immigration or visa status. Introduced by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D), the bill will be considered at a hearing on February 2.

  • Provide food and farm workers with paid leave

    No worker should have to choose between earning a paycheck and recovering from an illness or injury, especially during a pandemic. Yet Maryland exempts food and farm workers (and others) from its paid sick leave laws, forcing many to work while sick and potentially exposing others to a deadly virus.

    To protect worker and public health, Del. Kathleen Dumais (D) plans to introduce legislation that would amend the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act to, among other things, expand existing paid sick leave laws so they also apply to frontline workers, including food and farm workers. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

CPR is following these urgently needed bills as they move through the state legislature this session, which concludes on April 12. For updates, check back here, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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