Response to the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic caused incalculable loss, with its hardest blows falling on communities of color, essential workers, and working-class families. As chaos descended in the early weeks of the pandemic, immigrant families were targeted by scams and frauds seeking to take advantage of economic desperation. During these unprecedented and precarious times, community organizations were on the front lines as trusted messengers cutting through misinformation to get critical resources to local families. CAUSE rose to meet the needs of our region: we organized for safety net benefits, housing security, vaccine education, and supported essential workers like farmworkers organizing for a safe and equitable workplace during the pandemic.
Our organizers created Spanish language weekly facebook live videos watched by over 20,000 people and informational graphics seen by over 100,000 local residents. Together we made sure the community got timely and accurate information about testing and safety precautions, school information for parents, social services for immigrant families, rights for essential workers, and eviction protections for renters. We worked with cities across our region to pass eviction freezes as families struggled to pay rent and organized caravans with our partners demanding rent relief. We partnered with local public health departments to protect H-2A farmworkers living in labor camps which had been a hotspot of outbreaks, passing health orders to strengthen oversight and inspection. We worked with public health to run vaccine clinics focused on local farmworker families and hired outreach teams to inform thousands of local workers about resources like COVID-19 sick leave.
Essential workers like farmworkers were among those whose health and safety were in greatest jeopardy. At many Central Coast farms, COVID-19 hit in the peak of strawberry season, as fast-paced work led to corners cut on safety measures. Farmworkers struggled on poverty wages with the financial burdens of spiking costs for food and childcare. And many farmworkers were apprehensive to speak out due to language barriers and fear of further retaliation stemming from their documentation status.
In May 2020 – at the height of the pandemic – over 100 farmworkers walked off Rancho Laguna Farms, a major supplier of strawberries to Driscoll’s, to demand pandemic safety measures and an increase to their wage. In response to the workers’ request to be safe and fairly compensated, Rancho Laguna Farms retaliated by bringing in law enforcement to remove workers off the site.
Despite fears during these uncertain times, the farmworkers pulled on their courage and organized with support from CAUSE to address the workplace violations and create a safer environment for everyone at Rancho Laguna Farms.
With strategic support from CAUSE organizers, the farmworkers focused on demanding a fair wage, asking for new workplace safety policies for injuries and COVID outbreaks, and to be treated with dignity and not disrespect. During this time, CAUSE also began hosting informational “Know Your Rights” sessions for farmworkers so that they were aware of their rights and knew of actions they could take regardless of language barriers and their documentation status to address workplace abuses.
While workers circulated a petition in the fields to show unity with their demands, CAUSE launched an online solidarity campaign with tens of thousands of people across the country taking action. We demanded that Driscoll’s take accountability for the unfair treatment of workers by their supplier, quickly drawing the attention of the multinational corporation. Within days, Santa Maria farmworkers were on the phone sharing about their working conditions and demanding responsibility from the president of Driscoll’s.The broad display of support from the workers, local organizations, and leaders brought Rancho Laguna Farms to the negotiation table. CAUSE along with City Councilmember Gloria Soto, the farmworkers, and Mixteco interpreters from MICOP, negotiated with the company to secure life-changing wins for Racho Laguna farmworkers. The outcomes of the negotiations included a pay increase of 20 cents per box picked – twice the amount originally thought possible by the farmworkers. The workers also won pandemic safety protections such as tripling the amount of shade during the summer heat for socially distanced breaks, and mandatory supervisor training on labor rights and conflict resolution. This was a massive success in our effort to create a more sustainable economy as the farmworkers at Rancho Laguna Farms became some of the highest paid agricultural workers in the region.
CAUSE’s response to the pandemic didn’t stop there. We organized with the broader undocumented community, many of whom were suddenly out of work without unemployment benefits leaving thousands of families without the ability to pay for housing, food, and other essential needs.
Since the creation of the 805 UndocuFund during the 2017 Thomas Fire, we have seen the importance of extending safety nets to immigrant communities in response to unexpected emergencies. Yet, one of the most important societal safety nets that immigrant workers are excluded from is unemployment insurance. For this reason, during the COVID-19 pandemic CAUSE helped found the Safety Net for All campaign, a statewide coalition of immigrant and workers’ rights organizations working towards a vision of ending the exclusion of immigrant workers from unemployment benefits.The Safety Net for All coalition fought to win temporary aid to immigrant workers during the pandemic, and now is continuing to advance legislation to create a pilot program that would provide unemployed workers who are ineligible for regular unemployment insurance due to their immigration status with $300 per week for up to 20 weeks.
The Safety Net for All Coalition includes 120 immigrant & worker rights organizations across California from regions including the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, the Inland Empire, Los Angeles County, the Bay Area, Sacramento, and the Southern Border. The vision of the coalition is to ensure those affected are the ones leading the campaign, the leadership committee of the coalition is made up of leaders who will benefit from the passing of the law, including many CAUSE leaders. Despite us successfully lobbying to get this bill to the governor's desk, it was vetoed by Newsom in 2022 but the coalition and CAUSE remains strong and committed to this effort to bring safety net benefits to all Californians regardless of documentation status.
With so many folks out of work because of COVID, CAUSE also engaged in another statewide coalition to make sure that SB91 passed which would expand eviction moratoriums and forgive rent payments to low-income families affected by the pandemic. Our efforts with getting the bill passed into law ranged from gathering tenant stories to inform elected officials of how close families were to becoming unhoused and to organizing CAUSE leaders to attend large statewide press events to help build broad support for SB91. Through these efforts the bill was passed into law delivering relief that kept thousands of families housed during the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic being declared over, Central Coast families are living with the aftermath – from inflation, to housing insecurity, and lack of benefits. CAUSE realizes that the root causes of economic uncertainty for working and immigrant families persist and we will continue this work until we have a sustainable and just economy. Will you join us?