The League of United Latin American Citizens supports Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, who said meatpacking plant workers and grocery store employees are essential workers putting them in line for coronavirus vaccines. 

Tens of thousands of essential workers got up before dawn today and went back as they do every day, into the agricultural fields and meatpacking plants across our country to provide the food that feeds us. 

LULAC is calling for prioritization of distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to food and agricultural workers alongside our nation’s doctors and nurses plus first responders. Food and agricultural workers are heroes. They have been on the front lines of the pandemic, ensuring American’s have access to safe, nutritious, affordable food, and they should be at the front of the line for the vaccine as well.

Domingo Garcia

Latinos are the largest minority community working in the agricultural industry and meat processing industry. Latinos are farmers and ranchers raising cattle and poultry delivered to dinner tables of millions of families each and every day. Latinos labor on the agricultural fields planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables. Latinos work the food lines in meat processing plants to feed our families. Latinos stock the grocery shelves across the country. Latinos are preparing the meals at restaurants and delivering food to millions of families during this pandemic. Americans depend on the hard work and contributions of Latinos in the food industry.

Latinos have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to worsening historical inequities. The hospitalization rate related to COVID-19 is 217.2 per 100,000, according to the latest CDC data. Hospitalization rates for Latinos are 4.2 times the rate among whites, and COVID-19 deaths among Latinos are at an all-time high of 32.4 percent when weighted for population distribution. In fact, during a record-breaking week of reported COVID-19 cases nationwide, Latinos fared the worst. The Latino community continues to experience the harshest outcomes, including economic impact, social upheaval, and, most significantly, mortality rates.

The agricultural and meatpacking workers are on the frontline delivering vital services and deserve to be protected as soon as possible to keep our nation safe and nourished. LULAC is the first community-based Latinos organization that has gone into the meatpacking plants to see firsthand the conditions in some of the most challenging workplaces in our country. We have met face-to-face with the workers and talked with their CEO’s of the largest meat companies in the United States discussing the steps they are taking daily to make their facilities safer. The virus is an elusive, fast-moving threat facing the agricultural and meatpacking industry; owners, operators and workers alike. LULAC is committed to keep fighting for more PPE, safer line speeds, free onsite testing, paid time off for workers who become sick and paid leave for workers who are at risk during this pandemic. Equally important now is ensuring that essential workers are part of the first wave of individuals who are able to access the vaccine. 

Our priority from day one has been and will continue to be the workers. This is our mission because we know essential workers are not only keeping so many of us nourished, but also safe at home and keeping the American economy running. Nobody can survive without food and it’s important we understand that a disruption to the food supply has a grave impact on all of us.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. To reach Garcia, email: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows workers standing close together on a poultry processing line. (Photo: U.S. Government Accountability Office)