Latino Caucus Leaders, Affected Family Members Demand Accountability from Foster Farms, Fresno County Department of Public Health
SACRAMENTO - Today, members of the California Latino Caucus, alongside family members and representatives of Foster Farms workers who’ve passed away from COVID-19, demanded accountability from the Fresno County Department Public of Health in response to reports that County public health officials tipped off the company about an impending Cal/OSHA health & safety inspection.
According to reporting from Manuela Tobia at the Fresno Bee, last December, during a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the Foster Farms plant in southeast Fresno, County health officials advised Foster Farms about a Cal/OSHA about thenspection, coordinated their media strategy during the crisis, and intentionally withheld information from the public about the outbreak and their investigation.
At least five people who worked at the plant have died after losing their battle to COVID-19, and more than 20 people who worked at the plant have been hospitalized due to COVID.
“We must ask the question - who were these public health officials serving?” said Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus. “The people of Fresno County, or Foster Farms, one of the largest corporations in the county that has consistently put the health of its workers and our communities at risk throughout the pandemic? We need a comprehensive investigation to restore trust in a system designed to protect the health interests of all workers and not coddle and enable corporations that value profits over employees.”
"We at the Latino Caucus are deeply concerned about the health and safety of our state’s agricultural workers," said Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), Vice-Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, "so when we hear reports that Fresno county officials have broken the trust of their community and have put the lives of our essential workers in jeopardy, we demand answers and accountability. The public deserves to know the truth of what exactly happened and why it happened. As the grandson of a farmworker, I am personally offended by the actions purportedly taken by these Fresno County health officials, and I implore the Newsom Administration to initiate a full and comprehensive investigation.”
“The Bee revelation raises disturbing questions about trust,” said Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno). “If a county public health department is more concerned about helping a business owner rather than safeguarding the health and well-being of people who work for that business, what are we to think? It raises questions about whether components of the Fresno health safety system have been compromised and possibly with a bias toward employers. We need to know if this was a single incident, or an indication of something more wide spread.”
“All workers deserve to feel safe at work, that’s why we create protections in law. But, the system fails these workers when we don’t adequately enforce these laws,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said. “At every level of government, we need to do better by these essential workers.”
“I stand in unity with my colleagues in the Latino Caucus to demand accountability from the Fresno County Health Department, to fulfill their duties as trusted public health officials and protect the lives of workers above the interests of businesses and large companies,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “There should be no collusion and coordination between businesses and public health entities, as it greatly undermines public confidence in government when communities should be able to trust that public health entities will do what is right, that they will defend above all, the health and safety of workers at their place of employment.”
“Recent reporting of Cal/OSHA providing advance notice to Foster Farms of what was meant to be a surprise inspection of a site with 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases is egregious, needs to be investigated, and if found to be true and accurate, must have consequences,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). “The horror of COVID-19 became vivid precisely because meat plant workers, farmworkers, grocery store workers, and other industries with a majority low wage, immigrant, workers of color, became ill and died. For Cal/OSHA to trust that employers are always going to do what’s best when evidence emerges that suggests they are breaking the law – and proactively hiding cases of COVID-19 exposure and spread – is unacceptable.”
The full press conference can be viewed here, and the letter sent from the Latino Legislative Caucus to Governor Newsom is attached.
Michael Tonetti, (213) 280-6917, Michael.email@example.com
Elizabeth Stitt, (916) 802-1276, Elizabeth.Stitt@asm.ca.gov