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After a death and quarter of work force infected by COVID-19, Primex letting go workers who complained & turned to UFW

Union filing charges of illegal retaliation with NLRB

With one Primex Farms LLC worker dead from the novel coronavirus and a quarter of its workforce now infected, the large Wasco, Calif. pistachio and almond processing firm announced it is letting go many of the workers who complained about the failure to properly protect them and turned for help to the United Farm Workers, according to Primex employees who were informed on Thursday. The UFW is filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging illegal retaliation for union and concerted activities.

The majority of employees who have been active with the UFW in exposing Primex’s flawed response to the pandemic—including many who participated in a one-day strike on June 25—are provided by the employment service firm USA Staffing©. Those workers are losing their jobs because Primex is ending its relationship with USA Staffing©. Primex workers report:

  • Primex management said the termination of USA Staffing©-supplied employees is the union’s fault.
  • Some pro-company workers provided to Primex through USA Staffing© were told by management that they should re-apply to work there by turning to one of the other employment service agencies.
  • Even though management claimed lack of work is why Primex is cutting off USA Staffing©, the packinghouse recently had to reduce the number of shifts because not enough employees were showing up out of fear of COVID-19. Primex hired new workers the same day it announced the termination of the USA Staffing© employees and another staffing agency said it needed more employees. Workers say they cannot remember when Primex engaged in this kind of wholesale cutback.

Primex employee Maria Hortencia Lopez, 57, was taken off life support and has died from the virus. A second Primex worker, Eustodia Oropeza, 55, who also tested positive, was removed from life support and sent home for palliative care; she is not expected to survive. The UFW’s census of Primex workers shows 99 have tested positive for coronavirus as well as 42 of their adult family members and 25 children—for a total of 166 people connected with Primex, which employs 400 in its packinghouse.

Events at Primex prompted the UFW to issue an online appeal calling on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the nut producer: Becerra said in an email to CalMatters that, “The reports of workplace transmissions, including at agricultural employers like Primex, are deeply disturbing. While we cannot comment on any particular investigation, workers and their families should know that they are not alone in this fight.”