JAMESTOWN TWP. — An egg farm south of Hudsonville is responding to allegations that it is not taking enough precautions to protect employees, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, from contracting coronavirus.
Teresa Hendricks, director and senior attorney at Migrant Legal Aid, shared the complaints her office has received surrounding Sunrise Acres:
“We’ve been told that each day, three to four workers test positive (for coronavirus) from the day before. Some of them are sent home but some come back before their virus has passed and that they’re not being given enough time off if they’re concerned about their test or having the virus,” she explained.
She added employees allege precautions aren’t being taken to distance workers from one another, nor are they required to keep a mask on.
Sunrise Acres offered employees a $3 per hour raise to continue working, Hendricks also said.
One woman who contacted Hendricks said workers fear there is no way to prevent the virus from spreading to their family because they live with multiple family members in close quarters.
“Many of the workers who are immigrants find themselves under extra stress because they fear retaliation if they complain or speak up for themselves,” Hendricks said. “They may fear, may have immigration-related fears and they may just be afraid of losing their job altogether if they don’t show up and work under dangerous conditions.”
Fears like that aren’t exclusive to Sunrise Acres; farms across the country are seeing the same.
“It’s widely known in the agricultural industry that about 50% of workers are undocumented and it’s a reality that everyone is dealing with, so the employers know it, the workers know it. We wouldn’t have the food supply we have without them, so that’s just a reality that we deal with,” Hendricks added.
Sunrise Acres sent a statement to News 8 Wednesday afternoon confirming that seven out of 170 employees contracted COVID-19 last week and that no one else has tested positive since then. Those who are sick were told not to come back to work for at least two weeks and until they have been symptom-free for three days.
The company also confirmed employees were offered a raise for being “willing to work through these difficult times… As well as making clear to those employees who are not comfortable working during this time, that it is not mandated.”
“Sunrise Acres places top priority on the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic,” the beginning of the statement said. “We also appreciate Migrant Legal Aid’s concern for our workers and support we have received from the Ottawa County Health Department in reviewing our COVID-19 operational policies to protect our workforce. Sunrise Acres has added cleaning staff and a professional cleaning company to continually sanitize throughout work days, and we close each night to deep clean and sanitize.”
It added that workers have been trained on hand washing, using masks and social distancing and said it is screening them twice daily for illness symptoms.
Hendricks said her office is always willing to speak with migrant workers who have concerns about their employment.
“Any worker that feels afraid to go back to work should certainly contact our office for personal advice on their specific situation,” she said, adding, “but they should be looking for transparency from their employer and I would tell them to insist that they have procedures in place to protect the workers, like distancing, like temperature monitoring, like testing when it’s needed and just be open and honest with the workers about the number of people infected areas that are affected and how many.”
Migrant Legal Aid can be reached by phone at 1.800.418.3390 or by emailing email@example.com.