United Migrant Opportunity Services creates initiative to protect migrant farm workers

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Migrant workers stand in line to have their temperature taken before going into work on a Michigan farm.

United Migrant Opportunity Services is implementing their "Farmworker Protection Project" initiative to secure the safety of migrant farm workers who have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UMOS is distributing $1 million in financial aid and personal protective equipment to seasonal migrant farm workers in 11 states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. The non-profit organization claims that despite these workers being essential to the US food supply chain, protective measures like safety standards, monitoring and hazard pay have not been uniformly enforced across the industry.

Martinez said UMOS has distributed 78,000 face masks and 8,500 pairs of gloves, and they also plan to distribute hand sanitizer and safety glasses to workers. The organization will also provide up to $623,000 through 2021 in financial relief to workers through cash and food assistance. Martinez said migrant and seasonal farm workers can receive a one-time payment to cover COVID-related losses.

"(The) payment ... can be used for loss of income due to delays in farm or food processing plant openings, permanent or temporary closings to allow for deep cleanings in plants or farms, deaths in the family due to the coronavirus, and for loss of income due to quarantining or hospitalizations," Martinez said.

UMOS said they also received an anonymous $1 million donation at the Chicago Community Foundation with assistance from Justice for Migrant Women and the Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation. The donation has gone towards PPE supplies, direct financial assistance and distributing COVID-19 informational materials. 

"We are grateful to those supporters who stepped up to assist essential workers that were not included in previous government relief efforts," said Lupe Martinez, president and CEO of UMOS. "We are also gratified that Governor Evers acknowledged the contributions made by migrant and seasonal farm workers to Wisconsin’s overall agricultural workforce in his original COVID-19 order #25 that specified specific employer safety mandates for farm workers."

UMOS said that according to the state's Department of Workforce Development, over 4,000 migrant workers and H-2A visa workers contribute to Wisconsin's ag economy every year by planting and harvesting apples, corn, strawberries and other commodities.