On Monday Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced a revision to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization guidance that gives food processing and agricultural workers access to vaccines starting March 1. There are an estimated 79,000 workers in food processing and agricultural settings across Michigan. Food processing and agricultural workers, designated to Phase 1B Group C, previously would not have been eligible for vaccines until May 2021. The change in the prioritization schedule comes after pressure from advocates and community health experts. The UFW Foundation, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), and Farmworker Legal Services (FLS) applaud the latest move by the state of Michigan.
“The UFW Foundation commends MDHHS for reinstating the state’s initial COVID-19 vaccine plan, which prioritizes food and agricultural workers in Phase 1B, Group C,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “It is now imperative that a statewide mobile vaccination strategy that both targets agricultural workers and provides vaccine doses through mobile vaccination clinics is operationalized. Public health officials need to engage and collaborate with local community-based organizations and the unions that represent food workers in the vaccination implementation to ensure that the most vulnerable of essential workers are reached in the rural communities where they live and work. It is also critically important that comprehensive outreach and education efforts are funded by the state.”
“MIRC thanks MDHHS and the Governor’s office for making the vaccine available to farm workers in Michigan starting March 1st. During COVID-19, farm workers have been the backbone of Michigan’s food supply chain. Many have become sick and died. Many work in dairy farms, egg processing plants, and nurseries year-round doing in-person work, risking their and their families’ lives to keep us fed. Giving farm workers access to the COVID-19 vaccine is not only scientifically sound and recommended by public health experts, but is also the morally right thing to do,” said Michigan Immigrant Rights Center Supervising Attorney Diana Marin. “MIRC will continue to work with our community partners and community health centers to ensure farm workers’ access to the COVID-19 vaccine is equitable and timely.”
“The reinstatement of farmworkers' access to the vaccine in Michigan is a critical step toward establishing trust with the farmworker community,” said Farmworker Legal Services Managing Attorney Kara Moberg. “Agriculture has always been one of the most dangerous industries in the United States and legal exemptions have left farmworkers without access to many of the benefits – such as paid sick leave – that are available in other industries. The pandemic has only exasperated the health and safety concerns of the farmworker community. Since Michigan initially shut down in March of 2020, farmworkers have continued to work in-person in agricultural and food processing facilities. They have been subject to testing requirements but have not had access to the vaccine. Michigan’s decision to grant food processing and agricultural workers access to the vaccine beginning in March is vital and organizing mobile vaccination events for the farmworker community will be an important next step.”
Workers who have questions about their rights in Michigan can call FLS and MIRC at the free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046.
Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC's work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. MIRC’s Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Rights practice focuses on representing farmworkers with their employment and civil rights matters and specializes in cases at the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights. Michiganimmigrant.org
The UFW Foundation is a dynamic nonprofit organization established in 2006. For 15 years, the UFW Foundation has mobilized farm workers and their organizations across the country to advocate for more equitable policies, such as immigration reform, pesticide protections, heat standards, hazard pay and other worker protections. We engage constituents in systemic change to break the cycle of poverty while also providing critical services such as credible immigration legal services. UFWFoundation.org
Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan (FLS) fights for justice and dignity alongside the farmworker community. For over 20 years, FLS has conducted outreach at migrant labor camps throughout the state of Michigan; offered technical assistance, referrals, advice, and intake services to farmworkers through the statewide Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Hotline; and represented farmworkers in cases involving immigration, unlawful recruitment fees, wage theft, substandard housing or working conditions, retaliation, discrimination, and other exploitative schemes. FLS is committed to ensuring immigrant, migrant, and seasonal farmworkers' equal access to economic and social justice through civil impact litigation in employment and civil rights cases. Farmworkerlaw.org
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