For Kern County Workers, May Day is Every Day

by Ingrid Brostrom

May 6, 2020

Each year on May 1st, we gather to honor the countless workers and the labor movement whose struggle has won hard-earned victories we now take for granted, like the 8-hour work day. But now more than ever, as we shelter-in-place and as frontline workers put their bodies on the line to keep us safe, we must also do our part to protect the rights of workers everywhere.

Stand with Kern County Workers and Communities

Photo credit Brooke Anderson

Last Friday, I joined Jane Fonda, Dolores Huerta, Diana Tellefson Torres, Sara Nelson, Matteo Nube, Mijin Cha, Maria Castaneda, and other amazing activists and organizers to shine a light on the plight of essential workers and the need for a just transition that protects all workers and communities and leaves no one behind. Through my work at Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, I work with communities like those in Kern County, who are currently facing disproportionate environmental, public health, and economic harm because of a lack of worker and community protections.

As the birthplace of the farmworker rights movement and the training grounds for generations of civil rights leaders who continue to fight for safe and fair working conditions across the nation, Kern County, California has a long history of political action.

Despite this legacy, farmworkers in Kern County are currently feeding the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are not receiving protections from the government or the companies that employ them.

Kern County has virtually no measures in place for farmworkers facing economic devastation. At the same time, undocumented farmworkers have been excluded from federal programs and are even now being threatened with pay cuts to their already low income. In addition to unprecedented economic threats, farmworkers are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are more likely to experience poor outcomes from the disease.

Kern County is also facing a second economic blow as the oil market crashes. The county is home to some of the most productive oil fields in the nation, yet is one of the poorest regions with the highest rates of unemployment. The extraction of oil has generated billions of dollars for corporations and investors, but left the local economy weak and its workforce dependent on an unsustainable and unhealthy industry. Due to the COVID-19 crisis and simultaneous collapse of the oil market, workers throughout the region are reeling with very few resources available to get them through this critical time.

In an effort to provide immediate support for impacted workers and residents and to lay the foundation for a more sustainable and resilient economy, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, in partnership with local labor leaders, has launched the “Kern County Community Resiliency Fund.”

More than ever, Kern County residents and workers need your support. Please if you are able, make a gift to the Kern County Community Resiliency Fund in honor of the sacrifice of countless workers and communities whose struggle we must remember today and everyday.

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