Workers in Yakima County’s apple industry are exploring a range of options to secure hazard pay, increased safety assurances and other protections enjoyed by many essential workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
In early May, hundreds of employees went on strike from from at least six Yakima-based fruit warehouses, according to the Seattle Times. While many of the picketers have since returned to work, others continue to call for an extra $2 per hour in hazard pay (many of them currently earn the state’s minimum wage of $13.50 per hour) and other workplace safety measures.
Attorneys at Columbia Legal Services filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the Allan Brothers Fruit Company in Naches, WA unfairly targeted some of the striking workers.
With more than 2,630 positive COVID-19 cases, Yakima County has more than four times the statewide per capita average, according to the Seattle Times, and nearly two-thirds of them are Latino. Almost 500 of those who tested positive work in agriculture industries, which includes Washington’s celebrated apple crop.
The workers at Allan Bros. and other apple-processing warehouses in Yakima walked off the job amid pressure from the White House to keep operating at normal levels, yet without any extra pay, perks or protections to incentivize working in the hazardous conditions.
The House of Representatives recently passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill that includes $200 billion in “pandemic premium pay” for essential workers, which includes workers in the apple-processing industry.
While the House bill appears doomed to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate, the hazard-pay provision might survive in a compromise bill, the Seattle Times points out.
Washington Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse voted down the House bill, calling it a “socialist wish list.” But Newhouse still favors federally-funded hazard pay for apple industry workers in places like Yakima, where his family runs an orchard.
“I believe Congress should continue to empower our agricultural businesses to provide for their employees through these unprecedented times,” Newhouse said.
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