URGENT: Join the call to protect Florida farmworkers from the coronavirus!

Farmworkers in Immokalee wait aboard a crowded field bus in the early morning to leave for work on a local farm.

NY Times publishes powerful Op/Ed by CIW on farmworkers’ unique vulnerability to pandemic due to overcrowded living and working conditions…

“Those conditions, the result of generations of grinding poverty and neglect, will act like a superconductor for the transmission of the coronavirus. And if something isn’t done — now — to address their unique vulnerability, the men and women who plant, cultivate and harvest our food will face a decimating wave of contagion and misery in a matter of weeks, if not days.”

TAKE ACTION: Support Immokalee’s farmworkers during the COVID-19 crisis by signing CIW’s petition to Florida’s Governor!

This morning, the New York Times posted a call to action penned by one of CIW’s Co-Founders, Greg Asbed, on behalf of farmworker communities in Florida and around the country who have endured overcrowded living and working conditions for generations – ideal conditions for the rapid and devastating spread of the COVID-19 virus – while at the same time having little or no access to crucial public health and medical services.  When those historic conditions are combined with their designation as essential workers during the pandemic, farmworkers are dangerously exposed to what could quickly become an unbridled outbreak, leaving public health officials no time to respond if measures to address the outbreak are not taken now, before the virus takes hold in these mostly rural communities.  The piece concludes with the call to build desperately-needed facilities – field hospitals – in Immokalee and other similarly situated farmworker communities, which could provide both the space for workers who have contracted the virus to self-isolate so as not to infect others, and the precious medical resources needed to treat workers who are suffering the worst symptoms and fighting for their lives.  

Following the Op/Ed, you will find a petition you can sign to urge Florida’s Governor DeSantis to take immediate steps to establish a field hospital in Immokalee, before it is too late.  The logic is simple: If we as a society are demanding that farmworkers continue to work while the rest of the country stays home safe from the virus, the least we can do for farmworkers is be prepared with the necessary medical support in place when they inevitably contract the virus and fall ill. 

Here is the opinion piece in full (please be sure to see the call to action that follows the Op/Ed below):


Their cramped living and working conditions threaten their health and the nation’s food supply.

A century ago in “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair wrote about how the teeming tenements and meatpacking houses where workers lived and labored were perfect breeding grounds for tuberculosis as it swept the country.

Now there is a new pathogenic threat and the workers who feed us are once again in grave danger. America’s 2.5 million farmworkers are among the groups most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. And if they are at risk, our food supply may be too.

Picture yourself waking up in a decrepit, single-wide trailer packed with a dozen strangers, four of you to every room, all using the same cramped bathroom and kitchen before heading to work. You ride to and from the fields in the back of a hot, repurposed school bus, shoulder-to-shoulder with 40 more strangers, and when the workday is done, you wait for your turn to shower and cook before you can lay your head down to sleep. That is life for far too many farmworkers in our country today.

Those conditions, the result of generations of grinding poverty and neglect, will act like a superconductor for the transmission of the coronavirus. And if something isn’t done — now — to address their unique vulnerability, the men and women who plant, cultivate and harvest our food will face a decimating wave of contagion and misery in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Their dilemma is painfully simple: The two most promising measures for protecting ourselves from the virus and preventing its spread — social distancing and self-isolation — are effectively impossible in farmworker communities. There are no seats in the bus that will provide the six feet of separation necessary to ward off the killer virus. There are no empty rooms in the trailer available for a sick worker to recover in while his or her meals are left outside the door. And all the remaining preventive measures in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention playbook — hand-washing, elbow-coughing — can only slow the virus, they can’t stop it.

For farmworkers, like the 25,000 in Immokalee, Fla., where I helped found the Coalition of Immokalee Workers nearly three decades ago, the curve of contagion will be particularly steep.

Once one worker in a house, or on a crew, gets sick, it’s only a matter of time before his or her housemates and co-workers do, too. And then the virus is off, racing across the community from crew to crew, from trailer to trailer.

To make matters worse, farmworkers have never had adequate access to health care. Even before Covid-19, there were no hospital beds here in Immokalee: no ventilators, no intensive care units, no medical professionals trained to staff them. No access to transportation, private or public, to the nearest hospital.

And hospitals in the nearest large town, Naples, will quickly be overrun when the virus spikes, leaving people from Immokalee with nowhere to turn for urgent medical help.

The final ingredient in this recipe for an uncontrollable outbreak? Farmworkers have been designated essential workers — no food workers, no food. This puts farmworkers in an awful bind: They can’t afford to get sick by going to work, and they can’t afford to lose their jobs by not working. And so they toil, protected by little more than hope.

The message to our country’s farmworkers is unmistakable: While your labor is essential, you are expendable. That is wrong, both morally and for our nation’s food security.

We can’t treat the people who harvest our food as expendable. Like health care workers and emergency medical workers, they are putting themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us. We need to take steps now, ahead of the surge of cases, to erect fully staffed field hospitals like those being established in many urban communities — with both advanced lifesaving medical resources for those fighting for their lives and beds for those with more minor symptoms but no means to self-isolate at home — in communities like Immokalee. Preparations must start today if they are to be effective.

Despite this dire picture, however, farmworkers and growers alike are stepping up to stave off the virus for as long as possible.

Here in Immokalee, farmworker leaders with our organization are creating and safely distributing multilingual educational materials, while many growers who participate in our Fair Food Program are taking significant measures to keep workers safe — from buying groceries for their crews to help blunt the economic impact of the pandemic and avoid countless individual trips to the store, to donating hand-washing stations to be placed in strategic locations around the community.

But it’s not enough. The threat to farmworkers is a threat to us all — not only because, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are all “tied up in a single garment of destiny.” but also because farmworkers feed us all. No food workers, no food. It’s that simple.


Health is a human right!  Make your voice heard in demanding critical health services for Florida’s farmworkers…

The past month has been the most disruptive, and disorienting, time that many of us have ever experienced, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still far off.  In Immokalee, we have shifted all of the CIW’s energy, ingenuity, and resources toward preparing the community for the storm that is sure to come, getting word out to farmworkers about how to protect themselves against contracting the virus, and advocating for the precious medical resources that will be so necessary once the virus inevitably establishes a foothold in the community.

Yesterday, Collier County reported the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Immokalee, starkly underscoring the fact that time is running out for meaningful government leadership in addressing the spread of the virus here, and in other farmworker communities.

In order to stave off the worst of the crisis in Immokalee, we need your help.

Today, we are launching a petition on Change.org to Florida’s Governor, and all of Florida’s political leadership, to immediately take the following measures:

  1. Set up a field hospital in Immokalee in order to provide both quarantine space and medical treatment for farmworkers with positive cases of COVID-19.
  2. Provide personal protective gear and hand sanitizer to farmworkers, to protect them in their role as an “essential workforce”.
  3. Provide free, accessible COVID-19 tests in Immokalee.
  4. Allocate public funds for economic relief for Florida farmworkers.

We need YOUR voice – and that of every friend, family member, and colleague you can muster – to send a clear message to Governor DeSantis that you stand with farmworkers as this terrible crisis looms.

Click here to sign the petition, call Gov. DeSantis today, and share the call to action as wide and far as you can!