Maryland frontline workers push for further legal protections

Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — A trio of delegates in the Maryland General Assembly and State Senator Malcolm Augustine (D – Prince Georges) are moving legislation to protect frontline workers from dangerous conditions during the pandemic.

A number of agriculture and labor coalitions are behind the legislation, complemented by the backing of Maryland Clean Water Action, the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights and the National Employment Law Project. The state chapter for the national worker’s rights coalition Food and Water Watch is also taking a lead role in getting the bill passed.

Coalition organizer Lily Hawkins said “food workers and farm workers and the people who really bring us our food, whether it be in the poultry processing plants or picking crabs, often don’t have a powerful voice. They tend to be, many of them are, immigrants or minorities.”

Food and Water Watch is calling for standards in the workplace to provide personal protective equipment, social distancing guidelines, paid sick leave, reporting requirements for sick employees and “aerosol transmission standards” to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers.

The widow of a Perdue Farms worker who lost their life while employed at the company’s Salisbury plant is also helping the legislators gain support for the bill.

The coalition says Maryland Governor Hogan has not been especially supportive of their agenda. These workers, the coalition says, are afraid they will lose their jobs if they call in sick.

Prince Georges County Democratic Delegate Kris Valderrama says the legislature owes them protection under the law, which in turn will benefit consumers.

“One of the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic are the thousands of food and farm workers who show up every day so that we can make sure that we have food on our own tables,” Valderrama says. “These workers are often exposed to Covid-19 and sometimes have to choose between their personal safety and their paycheck.”

Montgomery County Delegates Vaughn Stewart and Kathleen Dumais are also active supporters of the coalition. Legislative protection to these workers they say will result in a secure food supply

The General Assembly is in its second week meeting this year. They conclude this session April 12.

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