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The push to vaccinate farm workers against COVID-19

Teresa Romero, United Farm Workers President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss vaccinations for farm workers and immigration issues.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's turn now to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on farm workers and what we need to do to protect them going forward. We're joined now by Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers. Teresa, thank you so much for joining us. What kind of protections do we still need-- we're more than a year into the pandemic-- for those farm workers going forward, especially as they're such essential frontline workers?

TERESA ROMERO: Yes, you're right. Farm workers have been working every day. You know, most of us can work remotely, but they cannot harvest the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy every day remotely. We have been working, in the farm worker movement, with the UFW-- the UFW Foundation-- the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and some contract companies to make sure that farm workers are getting the vaccine.

For the most part, in rural areas, it's very difficult for them to go to a pharmacy because those pharmacies are not in those areas or is very difficult and time-consuming to make an appointment. And you need to remember that not many of them have the technology or are technology savvy to really navigate the system. So we have been working throughout the state of California to make sure that vaccines are getting to rural areas.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Tell us more about that, Teresa, and the work you're doing in conjunction with different municipalities in California. How many of those frontline farm workers have been vaccinated, and what has the-- you know, are you seeing that there is vaccine hesitancy on the part of these farmers, or do they want to get the vaccine?

TERESA ROMERO: No, farm workers want to get vaccinated. We went through a process of getting phone calls with doctors and experts that spoke Spanish. So we had Zoom meetings and phone calls where workers were able to ask the questions that they had to understand what the vaccine was and what it did and the risks. And once-- like all of us, once they were informed, they were told the risks, farm workers are not hesitant to take a vaccine. I know there has been a lot of comments out there that they don't want to do it, but we have done research. And we have contacted thousands-- tens of thousands of farm workers, and 95% of them are saying, yes, we're going to get vaccinated.

KRISTIN MYERS: Teresa, I want to talk to you now about immigration issues, which, of course, is huge among a lot of farm workers. There are a pathway to citizenship bills right now that are being considered. Do they go far enough? Are there too many cracks? What do we really need for many of these farm workers, I know some of whom are undocumented, going forward?

TERESA ROMERO: Yes, and that is one of the main problems in the industry. A large percentage of the farm workers that work here in this country are undocumented. In 2019, we passed through the House the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and it passed with bipartisan support. 34 Republicans voted for it. We, again-- three weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi put it through a vote in the House and, again, passed it, this time with 30 Republicans supporting it.

We worked with both Republicans and Democrats in the House. We worked and negotiated with the major grower associations in the country. And we compromised to get a bill that would satisfy, you know, the needs of the industry and that would give farm workers and their families a path to citizenship. This bill, like I said, passed the House. It is in the Senate. We're working with the Senate to try to move it forward because President Biden has said he would sign it.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Teresa, I know that there has been a labor crunch, a labor shortage in the farming industry for quite some time. And now, we see some US produce growers turning to robots to do some of that work. Is that something that your organization can get behind? Is this something that will actually help the farm workers or actually greatly reduce the amount of jobs available for these-- for-- most of them are immigrants-- for these immigrants?

TERESA ROMERO: You know, like in any industry, technology is going to change the way we do things. If we see that these robots are going to make the work easier for farm workers, we applaud it. But we understand, not all the work needs to-- can be done by machines. You know, when you're harvesting vegetables and strawberries and wine grapes, you have to be very careful. There is fruits and vegetables that are-- you need to handle with a lot of care and knowledge. And I don't think the industry can be replaced by these robots.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Teresa Romero, United Farm Workers president, thanks so much for joining us today.