March 25, 2020
Maricruz Ladino spends long nights in a freezing lettuce cooler, inspecting and packaging pre-washed salad mixes. She usually starts her shift around 4 p.m., after the pickers are done in the fields, working until at least 2 or 3 in the morning.
“Imagine, what happens if one of us gets sick and we still have to work?” asked Ladino in Spanish. She worries about getting exposed to the coronavirus at the packing plant where she stands on a line only about a foot apart from other workers. They come into even closer contact when passing off packages.
Although farming and food production are considered “essential businesses” exempt from California’s statewide shelter-in-place order, agricultural employers are having a hard time navigating guidance from public health officials on how to keep workers safe.
Ladino said her boss held a meeting recently to remind workers to wash their hands more frequently. They need to wear gloves and a hair net as usual, but now they’re also wearing masks over their noses and mouths. Ladino said the truck drivers who transport the produce can’t come into the plant directly anymore but must wait outside in their trucks.