More than 1,000 farmworkers in California’s Santa Clara County will have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at pop-up clinics happening through today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports“The people who were doing the hardest work picking the fruit and processing it were the most hard-hit by COVID-19, and it continues,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said in the article. “The best way we can honor our frontline workers is what we’re doing today, which is getting them vaccinations.”

The mobile clinic, a collaborative effort between United Farm Workers (UFW), UFW Foundation, Monterey Mushrooms, and the county, is the first to target farmworkers in the region. More than 120 farmworkers were also vaccinated at another clinic, in Southern California’s Ventura County. The UFW groups again organized it, this time with Muranaka Farm Inc. and the county. A second clinic targeting 500 farmworkers there is also set for the weekend. The union is hoping their efforts are replicated: “The collaborative approach could serve as a model for other regions of the state,” it said.

We’ve noted numerous times the dire impact the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on farmworkers, who have always been essential. Nonprofit environmental journalism organization InsideClimate News reported last July that a study conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies found that farmworkers were “contracting the virus at much higher rates than people in any other occupation.”

In Monterey County, just south of Santa Clara County, farmworkers were “three times more likely to contract the coronavirus than the general population,” the report said. “Farm hubs have the highest rates of Covid-19 in the state, and Latinx patients comprise the majority of cases in those hot spots.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised giving agricultural workers early access to the vaccine, but states have taken a range of approaches,” The New York Times reported, with a coalition of California groups last November urging the prioritization of farmworkers in vaccine distribution. Since then, Riverside County has been the first in the U.S. to prioritize all farmworkers for vaccination, the Times reported. In Coachella Valley, “a landmark effort” is also targeting farm workers through pop-up clinics.

In a testament to their risky work, one farmworker at the Ventura County clinic said she’d already survived the virus. The Chronicle reported that in Salinas Valley, 13% of farmworkers had tested positive for the virus during the second half of last year. “In comparison, only 5% of Californians overall tested positive from the start of the pandemic in March to November”:

Advocates worry about other issues making vaccine accessibility more difficult for farmworkers. Some indigenous farmworkers are hindered due to language issues. The New York Times reports others don’t have broadband accessibility for scheduling appointments online. Let’s say they’re able to schedule something. What if they have no way to get there? “Many cannot easily reach vaccination sites in urban areas because they do not have reliable transportation or the ability to leave work in the middle of the day.” 

Then there’s the outright intentional negligence of localities putting in roadblocks for undocumented workers. In Florida, undocumented farmworkers worry about having to prove residency requirements. In Nebraska, the Republican governor seemingly refused to acknowledge the existence of undocumented workers at the state’s meatpacking plants. Facing outrage, an aide to Gov. Pete Ricketts said sure, undocumented essential workers at plants are eligible for the vaccine I guess, but they’ll have to wait at the end of the line.

Or, we could just prioritize all essential workers regardless of immigration status? Once you throw this kind of fear in the air, it’s hard to rein them back in. Recall that immigrants were fearful of the previous administration’s discriminatory “public charge” rule even before it was officially published. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody has access to vaccinations when they become eligible, especially those who are working in sectors that have been hardest hit by COVID,” said Santa Clara County public health director Dr. Sara Cody, according to the Chronicle. “These mobile vaccination clinics that come to communities, that meet people where they work and where they live, this is how we will get ourselves out of this pandemic.”

“We have been suffering the penalties of this sickness, and we have not received the attention that we deserve,” farmworker advocate Rogelio Lona said in the report. “I thank the county for coming to our place of work and allowing us to be the first farmworkers in the area to receive the vaccine, and I hope these efforts continue so that our community may combat this.”

Grocery workers in the city of Los Angeles are set to receive a temporary $5 per hour pay raise after the city council voted today to mandate “hero pay” for employees of larger grocery and drugstore chains.

Tuesday’s vote — a procedural requirement after the measure failed to earn the council’s unanimous support last week — fell along expected lines, with 14 councilmembers supporting the measure and San Fernando Valley Councilman John Lee casting the lone “no” vote.

The pay bump will take effect immediately and last for 120 days once Mayor Eric Garcetti signs off on the ordinance, which he has said he supports. An estimated 26,000 workers in the city could benefit from the extra pay.

“For months workers have been demanding hazard pay as the pandemic continues, but companies have pocketed their profits,” said Kathy Finn, secretary-treasurer of the L.A. grocery workers union UFCW 770, in an emailed statement after last week’s council vote. “The Los Angeles City Council listened to workers today, not the fear-mongering of giant corporations, and for that we are grateful.”

California’s grocery industry has filed legal challenges to “hero pay” mandates in other cities and has vowed to fight requirements in L.A.

“Extra pay mandates will have severe unintended consequences on not only grocers but on their workers and their customers,” California Grocers Association CEO Ron Fong said in a statement last week.

The industry group has argued the pay bump will lead to higher food prices and store closures, without making workers any safer. Employers have also pushed the city to shorten its 120-day timeline for requiring hazard pay, given that food workers in L.A. County are now eligible for vaccination.

The L.A. city council vote follows the passage of “hero pay” laws in Long Beach, West Hollywood, Montebello, and the unincorporated parts of L.A. County.

Last week, a judge denied the California Grocers Association’s request for an injunction against Long Beach’s $4-per-hour mandate. The industry group said it will appeal that decision. Since the passage of Long Beach’s ordinance, the grocery giant Kroger announced the closure of two stores in the city.