SACRAMENTO — Assembly member Eduardo Garcia’s first act of 2021-22 legislative session was to introduce legislation that would prioritize food supply workers, including farmworkers and grocery store workers, for vaccine distribution and access to rapid testing during a pandemic, according to a press release dated Dec. 9.
Assembly Bill 93 recognizes the importance of food supply workers and the increased risk they assume providing essential services for our communities, the press release from Garcia’s office states.
“To keep our grocery stores stocked and families fed throughout this pandemic, California’s farmworkers, grocery store, and other critical food sector workers face a heightened risk of exposure. Without question, these essential workers should be prioritized in receiving vaccinations. This measure moves to strengthen legislative safeguards for these vulnerable populations and ensures that we implement an equitable vaccine and rapid testing distribution plan now and in future pandemics,” Garcia, D-Coachella, stated in the release. “Our frontline workers should be at the front of the line. The stability of our food supply system relies on our ability to provide testing and vaccinations for these essential workers.”
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state is the world’s fifth-largest supplier of food and agriculture commodities. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. The measure would help ensure the stability of the food-supply chain by placing the essential workers who handle food in the first tier of priority for rapid testing and vaccination programs in the event of a pandemic, including COVID-19.
“Farmworkers and food supply workers are an essential workforce responsible for the food production that sustains our state. For centuries they have faced inequities that now COVID-19 continues to spotlight. We must appreciate and value our essential workers always, not just in times of crisis. Our workers cannot be an afterthought for our state, they must always be a priority. We thank our compañero Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia for listening to the grassroots and acting to protect our most vulnerable workers by presenting AB 93,” stated Luz Gallegos, executive director of TODEC Legal Center, an Inland Empire-based organization committed to empowering and providing resources to immigrant communities.
TODEC is part of a coalition of farmworker advocacy groups who have written urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to prioritize farmworkers for the COVID-19 vaccine.
California’s Latino and farmworker communities have been disproportionately impacted by this public health crisis. The California Latino Legislative Caucus also submitted a letter asking the Governor to include farmworkers in the first phase of the vaccination plan.
Caucus Vice Chair, and joint-author of AB 93, Assembly member Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, said, “Farmworkers are three times more likely to contract COVID-19, yet they are the reason why we can go to the grocery store without worrying whether shelves will be stocked. I’m proud to join (Assembly member) Garcia in ensuring our farmworkers are prioritized when vaccines become available for COVID-19 and future pandemics. We cannot protect our food supply without first protecting our agricultural workers.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to spike across our country and state, grocery store workers experience an accelerated chance of infection. Riverside County Public Health reported that of available data from July to September, nearly half of the county’s coronavirus outbreaks were linked to grocery stores.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union issued a press release stating that at least 350 UFCW frontline workers have died of COVID-19 and 48,000 were infected or exposed, this includes the loss of 109 grocery workers with more than 17,400 grocery workers having been infected or exposed to the virus.