Bereaved family members, UFW, Jakara Movement & Faith in the Valley
Livingston, Calif.—Workers and their union will join the Punjabi Sikh community and faith-based activists at a virtual news conference at 12 noon today (Monday, August 31) pledging to boycott Foster Farms products if the giant poultry processing plant in Livingston continues its failure to provide a safe workplace after at least eight plant workers died from the novel coronavirus. Bereaved family members who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 while working at Foster Farms will discuss a possible boycott, joined by worker leaders at the facility and supporting groups including the United Farm Workers, the Jakara Movement Punjabi Sikh organization and the Faith in the Valley faith-based community organizing group.
Speakers will lay out how Foster Farms has repeatedly failed to properly protect its employees, citing, in part, a detailed August 26 order from Merced County health officers following 358 confirmed COVID-19 cases and eight deaths since April 24, including 214 confirmed cases and six deaths in the last month alone. This order notes that since August 5, the company has not implemented county directives and delayed comprehensive testing of all workers. UFW will note Foster Farms has not met ongoing requests for transparent steps to ensure worker safety.
Furthermore, the company did not comply with an August 26 Merced County Department of Public Health order to shut down within 12 hours. An August 27 order was also not obeyed, and workers were still directed to report for work. Foster Farms finally announced a temporary closure set for Tuesday, September 1, nearly a week after the urgently demanded shut down.
Conference participants will be pledging support for a Foster Farms boycott if it continues failing to provide a safe workplace. Safe workplace measures should include:
• Complying with the county order to close the entire Livingston facility.
• Testing all workers, including cleaning crews, with public results before returning to work.
• Providing all employees with paid leave while the plant is closed and “quarantine pay” to those awaiting test results.
• Testing of all workers every week once the facility reopens.
• Supplying hazard pay of an additional $2 an hour throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
• Providing all employees with free masks, face shields and other PPE equipment.
• Signing a union contract with an employee and health and safety committee to protect both union and non-union workers
Who: Bereaved relatives of deceased family members, worker leaders, UFW leaders, leaders from the Jakara Movement and Faith in the Valley.
What: Pledging support for a boycott if the plant keeps failing to protect its workers.
When: 12 noon, Monday, August 31, 2020.
Timeline of Foster Farms avoiding safety measures recommended by
UFW and county health department and defying county health orders
March 2020– UFW and Foster Farms came to an agreement on a new union contract that includes a health and safety committee. Foster Farms attempts to interfere with the union contract ratification process and does not implement the agreement including formation of the health and safety committee.
March/April 2020 – UFW asks Foster Farms to provide adequate PPEs. Foster Farms takes some, but not all, health and safety measures requested by the union.
May 2020 – Foster Farms workers vote to ratify the UFW contract. Foster Farms continues to delay implementation of the contract.
May 2020 – UFW takes direct initiative to distribute free face masks to all employees as Foster Farms has still not done so.
June 29, 2020 – Merced County health officials survey Foster Farms and make several recommendations, including recommendations to conduct widespread testing. The company does not comprehensively follow many of the recommendations.
July 2020 – Foster Farms publicly indicates precautions are being taken, but expanded testing does not in fact not take place for another three weeks. Two departments at the plant in particular show signs of increasing outbreaks with rising positivity rates and while widespread testing continues to be delayed, three fatalities occur. Neither the UFW nor workers are informed that an outbreak has been declared.
Late July 2020 – Less than 10 percent of workers have been tested in departments where positivity rates soar to 25 percent in some departments. The UFW also requests testing everyone and Foster Farms declines.
August 3, 2020 – Merced County performs a plant site visit to discover the July 2020 recommendations have still not been fully adopted.
August 5,2020 – County health officials issue ordersincluding the requirements that Foster Farms test permanent, voluntary and temporary workers in every facility where outbreaks are occurring. The company does not fully comply.
August 11, 2020 – Merced County health officials issue a second order for Foster Farms to take measures to contain the outbreaks, including immediate testing of exposed temporary workers and other protective measures. Foster Farms continues not complying with these orders.
August 26, 2020– County health officials order the company to shut down by Thursday, August 27, but Foster Farms did not comply.
August 27, 2020—County health officials repeat the order for the company to close down its Livingston facilities, but the company does not comply and instead tells Foster Farms workers to report to work on Friday August 28.