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Kern Co. farm workers expose grievances as COVID-19 cases surge & Primex Farms fails to protect them

Wasco, Calif.—Workers from Primex Farms LLC of Wasco are exposing additional grievances over what they say is the company’s failure to properly protect them from COVID-19. They are among workers who struck Primex for one day on June 25, including some who have tested positive for the virus.

Workers allege that they learned about colleagues testing positive from other workers and media reports, not from the company. The extent of infection is much greater than Primex has previously indicated. The company issued a press statement blaming its infections on a worker who brought it into the plant from Mexico, who employees report was then fired. The United Farm Workers, which is assisting Primex employees, is compiling a list of all workers with positive test results. It now stands at 62, not including infected family members.

According to workers employed by Primex:

• No testing was offered by Primex.

• Clear and transparent communication was not provided to Primex employees.

• Some of the workers who requested to be quarantined out of fear for their health were advised that they could resign instead.

• Some of the workers who tested positive were told to keep it confidential.

• Primex announced last week that it was immediately shutting down to do a deep cleaning against coronavirus. Workers say instead the company is conducting a regularly scheduled in-house fumigation against pests, a normal once every other month practice. That falls far short of a complete disinfection of all facilities against COVID-19 by a specialized third-party firm.

Workers demand immediate worksite implementation of requirements such as social distancing, payment of wages during shutdowns, thorough and daily sanitation of facilities, COVID-19 testing of all current and new employees, and supplying free protective equipment. Workers indicate Primex initially sold masks for $8; they are now being provided free.

Primex processes more than 60 million pounds a year of almonds and pistachios and farms 5,000 acres, providing mostly year-round employment for 400 packing shed workers. Most of them live in Wasco, Shafter and Bakersfield.