The number of workers at Primex Farms LLC in Wasco testing positive for coronavirus has climbed to 77, the UFW confirmed Wednesday, and an additional 33 family members have also tested positive for a total of 110 Primex workers and family members.
The company is now testing workers at the plant, and workers say the company has asked employees who had previously tested positive to show up to be tested again. Some workers feel it is not safe for already infected employees to be around their colleagues at the facility.
“We cannot practice social distancing when we eat in the dining room,” said Daniela Mejia, a Primex worker, at a Monday press conference. “There is not enough space to keep six feet apart. The most is one foot apart. They do not disinfect the restrooms that everyone uses, and the hand sanitizers are being mixed with water.”
Half a dozen Primex workers spoke at a press conference Monday about additional grievances over what farm workers say is the company’s failure to properly protect employees from COVID-19.
During the press conference, workers demanded immediate worksite implementation of requirements such as social distancing, payment of wages during shutdowns, thorough and daily sanitation of facilities, COVID-19 testing of all current and new employees, and supplying free protective equipment. Workers indicate that Primex initially sold masks for $8; however, they are now being provided for free.
The virtual press conference came after nearly 50 workers struck Primex, a Central California pistachio farm, last Thursday.
Primex confirmed last week 31 people at the company were infected.
“Families have contracted the contagious virus, and a mother passed the virus to her 9-month-old baby, and Primex does not want to clean or disinfect the package house,” said worker Mariela Cisneros.
Workers allege that they learned about colleagues testing positive for the virus from other workers and media reports — not from the company.
The company issued a press statement saying the virus was brought to the plant by workers from Mexico. Employees report the worker was then fired, according to a UFW press release.
“The company has since brought on new workers to fill in for those who have gotten ill but hasn’t advised them of the outbreak,”said Primex worker Veronica Perez.
According to workers employed by Primex, no testing was offered by Primex; clear and transparent communication was not provided to Primex employees; some of the workers who requested to be quarantined out of fear for their health were advised that they could resign instead; and some of the workers who tested positive were told to keep it confidential.
“I was positive,” said Patricia Camacho. “They sent me home. Human resources told me to not tell anyone, and they did not offer anything or even called.”
Carlos Gonzales, a machine operator for Primex, said employees who wished to go home out of fear of contracting the virus were advised by the company that they could take two weeks off at their own will, but there was no guarantee they would have their job when they returned. Workers also do not receive unemployment benefits.
Primex announced last week that it was immediately shutting down to do a deep cleaning against coronavirus; however, workers say instead the company is conducting a regularly scheduled in-house fumigation against pests, something the company does once every other month.
“That falls far short of a complete disinfection of all facilities against COVID-19 by a specialized third-party firm,” the UFW said in a news release.
Wasco City Council member Alex Garcia said Monday, “ I share the same concerns and am fearful of this outbreak. I will do everything in my power to respond to this outbreak.”
The UFW is now appealing to Congress to protect farm workers and agricultural communities from the spread of the Coronavirus with the FARM Laborers Protection Act.