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UFW asks CA AG investigation after Primex worker death, continuing spike of COVID-19 infections and company retaliation against employee for speaking out

Concerns over whether Primex Farms LLC is failing to properly protect its workers from the novel coronavirus prompted the United Farm Workers to issue an online appeal to a large list of national followers calling on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the big Wasco, Calif. almond and pistachio producer:

 The union points to three new grievances cited by Primex workers:

• A Primex worker died this week from COVID-19. Maria Hortencia Lopez, 57, was taken off life support after testing positive for the virus.

• The UFW census of Primex workers presently shows 97 are infected with the virus plus an additional 40 adult family members and 23 children—for a total of 160 people connected with the company.

• Remigio Ramirez is a 13-year veteran maintenance worker at Primex. Remigio said he tried multiple times telling supervisors he was ill and asking to go home. They replied there was too much work and not enough workers, according to Remigio. A few days later he tested positive. After he was quoted in a news story published by the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion and became involved with the Union’s efforts to improve working conditions at Primex, Remigio said the company told him that next month he will be transferred to the night shift after having worked 13 years only on the day shift. The UFW has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Primex for illegal retaliation with the National Labor Relations Board and is investigating reported violations of other workers’ rights.

Workers said they learned about colleagues testing positive from other employees and media storiesinstead of the company. Some asked to stay home to protect their health but were advised they could quit instead. The UFW heard reports that some workers who tested positive were told to keep it quiet.

In frustration, worker leaders staged a strike on June 25. Primex then said they would shut down for a deep cleaning against the coronavirus. But workers say the company only conducted a regularly scheduled fumigation against pests by in-house workers who themselves could have been exposed to COVID-19. The company disputes this, but workers insist that no deep cleaning has occurred. Primex is still scheduling some workers for work who have been tested at the plant but have not yet been supplied with their written results.

In a press statement, the company promised to pay all workers for all the time they lost whether they have symptoms or tested positive. According to workers, Primex has since failed to do so. Workers also report Primex is failing to pay all employees for the time they are unable to work under the federal CARES Act as well as Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order mandating two weeks of paid sick leave.