COVID-19 vaccine expansion a 'big turning point' for LA County food, agriculture workers, union leader says

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Over the last year, food and agriculture workers have been disproportionately exposed to COVID-19. Until recently, they've been without access to a vaccine.

"It's been a nightmare. Folks liken it to being in a war where you are a soldier on the front line, and you didn't know that you signed up to be one," said Rachel Torres, UFCW 770's deputy political and civil rights director.

Torres described an uphill battle to push for proper protection, testing, and hazard pay. This month will be a big turning point, said Torres.

L.A. County is now expanding its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to food and agriculture workers.

"Our members, and I would say all grocery workers, all essential workers are very excited to receive it," she said. "I think there has been this underlying assumption that once the vaccine is open people would not get it --that's far from the truth."

The UFCW 770 website tracks the number of COVID-19 infections to-date among its tens of thousands of members. Right now, it's 5,833 people who have tested positive.

"We are just coming out of a surge on top of a surge for grocery, drug, meatpacking, cannabis workers -- all essential workers in the city of Los Angeles, the county of Los Angeles," said Torres.

The union has already helped get COVID-19 vaccines to around 1,000 members in the last week and a half, through partnerships with the state.

"We are actually very excited about the moment that we are in, to partner with the federal government, with FEMA, with the governor, with the county to roll out the vaccine," said Torres.

UFCW 770 has been emailing, texting members to ensure they know they're now eligible to schedule an appointment.

In L.A. County, they can schedule an appointment at MyTurn.CA.gov or call (833) 422-4255.

Still, the front-line workers - many people of color who live in multigenerational households - remain particularly vulnerable. Unfortunately, there is still overcrowding and customers who refuse to wear face coverings, Torres said.

"We know that until the mass majority of folks are vaccinated, grocery and drug retail workers - and frankly, all essential workers - meatpacking, cannabis workers, all of them are in a state of hazard," she said. "Every day they wake up not sure if they're going to get infected."
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