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Farmworkers at Central California pistachio farm strike after dozens test positive for the coronavirus

Pistachios sit on a table in San Francisco
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A group of about 50 farmworkers went on strike Thursday at a Central California pistachio farm demanding free face coverings, gloves and information from the farm’s owner after they said they learned from the media that dozens of their co-workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a union official said.

Workers picketed outside Primex Farms in Wasco, which grows pistachio nuts, said Armando Elenes, a United Farm Workers official. Their demands also include better sanitation measures and more information from the company, which had not told them about the positive cases, he said.

“They wanted to keep everything confidential, and at the same time, people [are] getting contaminated,” Elenes said.

Workers learned of the cases about two weeks ago when fellow workers started getting sick, but only heard that dozens had tested positive from a report on local television, Elenes said.

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Primex, which has 5,000 acres of pistachio orchards in California as well as other nuts and produces dried fruits, confirmed that 31 people at the company were infected.

The farm, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, has about 400 workers and is following health guidelines to prevent virus spread, said Mojgan Amin, the company’s chief operating officer.

Primex is closing its plant from Friday to Monday for a deep cleaning and has hired a mobile testing facility to offer free testing to all workers on Monday, Amin said, adding that those who test negative can return to work.

“As an essential business, Primex expects to resume normal operations in the near future,” Amin said in an email.

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Elenes said about 50 workers were participating in the strike and would decide each day whether to continue. He said the workers were not union members but were being supported by UFW. Amin refuted the assertion, saying no employees were striking and just 10 workers were involved in demonstrations.

Veronica Perez, one of the workers, said the company never held a meeting to tell them what was happening and only began providing free masks a few days ago. Previously, she said they sold cloth masks for $8 each.

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, she said.

“They continue to hide everything from us,” she said. “All we are asking is that all our rights are fulfilled and they treat us as essential workers and give us a safe place to work.“


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