As COVID-19 outbreaks in food production plants continue to make workers sick in the San Joaquin Valley, employees at one plant outside Bakersfield are calling on the State Attorney General to step in.
Primex Farms in Wasco employs around 400 people. As of last Wednesday, 150 workers had tested positive for COVID-19 and over 70 had gone back to work, a company spokesman said.
But Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer for the United Farm Workers, said workers did not find out about the outbreak through their employer.
“They found out through rumors, through the media itself, that there were dozens of employees that were infected with COVID-19,” Elenes said. “There were employees that alleged the company was not communicating to them, not letting them know that there were that many employees that were infected.”
In addition, Elenes said, workers were told they could take time off for fear of contracting the virus but they might not have a job when they return. The company spokesperson for Primex says all of these claims are false. Still, some workers are calling on California Attorney General Xavier Baccera to launch an investigation into the company’s practices.
“They’re asking for an investigation into all the practices and what possible negligence this company engaged in because now you got all these families with covid,” he said. Elenes said 69 family members including 25 children have been infected due to the outbreak.
Elenes said the company has not come through on any of its public promises to enforce social distancing or compensate workers that have been infected.
“Workers were complaining that those that were put in quarantine or tested positive were not getting paid,” Elenes said.
Primex also denies these claims and said the company is following CDC protocol including enforcing mask usage, doing temperature checks and using Plexiglas separations.