Expert Pitch

Failing to vaccinate farmworkers exploits, endangers labor force

Cornell University
2-Mar-2021 3:05 PM EST, by Cornell University

Despite CDC recommendations that farmworkers should be one of the first groups selected for COVID-19 vaccinations, some of the top farming states have not prioritized agricultural workers.

The following Cornell University experts are available to discuss the importance of vaccinating farmworkers not only to help ensure the stability of the U.S. food supply, but also to protect the immigrant work force that is at high risk for COVID-19.

Beth Lyon is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School who focuses on domestic and international migrant and farmworker rights. She is also the founder of the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic.

Lyon says:

“Even as California is prioritizing vaccine delivery to farmworkers, the state of New York continues to contravene CDC guidelines and exclude farmworkers from priority group 1b. 

“California has showed the rest of the country that it is possible to prioritize vaccine delivery to farmworkers – this policy makes sense not only for obvious public health reasons, but because the weight of America’s racist history of farm labor exploitation demands it.

“History shows that if we fail to vaccinate farmworkers, we are following a well-worn policy path of exploiting, endangering and vilifying the communities that provide hired farm labor.

“Recruiting low-income workers to come to this country to serve as farmworkers at the bottom of our food supply chain, and then shutting them out of a life-saving vaccine because they are immigrants, lays bare the racism at the heart of our low-wage immigration system. 

“New York state is excluding farmworkers from phase 1b, contravening CDC rollout recommendations and exacerbating an ongoing public health disaster in farm country, particularly in enclosed work environments like dairy.

“Some of the public leaders who are ignoring CDC guidelines and refusing vaccines to farmworkers are openly playing to xenophobia, and others are simply perpetuating the political powerlessness of a workforce comprised largely of undocumented and employer-tied visa workers.”

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Mary Jo Dudley is the director of the Cornell Farmworker Program and a faculty member of the Department of Global Development. Dudley is an expert in farmworker issues and has been working with agriculture workers from New York and other top farming states throughout the pandemic to help maximize worker safety and protect vulnerable immigrant populations.

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