Updated: Aug 4, 2022
Between April and May every year, Colorado sees an influx of H-2A workers and we become familiar with these people whose labor contributes so much to the success of the agricultural industry in our state. The Project Protect Promotora Network 2021 report for May and June covered H-2A visa workers and the realities they overcame with the assistance of promotores of the Network. Given the importance that these agricultural workers hold, we will continue this tradition and release an annual report with insights about the H-2A workers and the promotores who befriend them for this May & June report as well.
During May and June the Network had 748 conversations with H-2A visa workers. Considering the H-2A Disclosure Data for quarter two of fiscal year 2022 from the U.S. The Department of Labor has 2,357 certified visas starting between January and May in Colorado, the Network has had a considerable reach. Our report last year demonstrated how these visa workers travel light and arrive with a desire to learn about their community and the local resources available. These workers are often challenged by various issues, such as access to medical services for workplace injuries or chronic illnesses. Often these issues impact their ability to work and thrive in the state and when promotores first meet them, conversations involve not only an introduction to the individual, but also to their needs and personal challenges. As such, these preliminary encounters require a great deal of involvement on the part of the promotores in order to ensure assistance to the individual and other visa workers who are also challenged.
This year, the Network encountered much of the same, with promotores reporting assistance given in many similar areas. However, we also found that experience gained from 2021 was crucial in preparing for this year’s influx of H2A agricultural workers. The Network saw three particular areas of success in 2022 compared to 2021, each directly resulting from this experience: vaccination support; sun-protection and suitcases; relationships.
Vaccinations + H-2A Visa Workers
H-2A visa workers this year had to have proof of vaccination in order to be approved for work. However, vaccine access does not stop here as many are now in conversation with promotores about the next set of boosters. In the Southeast region, Ms. Koralia De Lara, Ms. Ezperanza Saucedo, Ms. Ana Chacon, and Ms. Cecilia Garcia encountered 40 H-2A workers when advertising for a vaccination event, many of whom had questions about their next doses,
[translation from the original Spanish] The majority who got vaccinated were H2A workers. As they have just arrived and some have little work and others are not working, they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated (boosted). They wanted to be vaccinated because they say they don't know if they will require all 3 vaccines for next year. Just as they did this year, they required the 2 vaccines to be able to enter the USA to work. (Southeast, 17135, May 2022)
These promotores helped to organize a vaccination event where 50 boxes of pantry items, 40 masks, and 150 COVID home tests were distributed. During this event, a local clinic provided 20 booster vaccines to these workers, while promotores offered translation as the clinic did not have a translator on staff. People who received the vaccine were given a gift card and reusable water bottles from the South East Colorado Health program.
This is just one of many vaccination efforts for H-2A workers the Network has supported this year.
Basic Needs + H-2A Visa Workers
Basic needs surrounding food, communication, travel, and clothing remains a top request from H-2A workers. In the North 1 region, Ms. Rosalinda Garcia and Ms. Kelly Perez hit the road with boxes of food in search of H-2A workers who just arrived from Mexico. They found 12 new workers in their housing units.
[translation from the original spanish] They are always living in very remote houses and alone. There were several workers who came to Colorado for the first time and they are very surprised that this program exists that supports them, with tests for COVID, alcohol and disinfectants, etc. It is very nice for them that someone helps them here, so far from home. (North 1, 17720, June 2022)
These workers requested sweatshirts, hats, pants and suitcases. Ten days later, Rosalinda and Kelly returned with most of the requested items as Project Protect Food System Workers had been anticipating this need based on previous data and experiences. Upon return, the Promotoras yet again found new arrivals to help,
[translation from the original Spanish] Today I went to distribute the resources to a place where some H-2As live and they told me that 20 of their colleagues from Mexico had arrived last week. They were in the house near them. I was very happy to know that they had already arrived and I went to leave them their hats, shirts, gloves, backpacks, etc. They asked for food. (North 1, 18006, June 2022)
In San Luis Valley, Ms. Amanda Alanis explains again how necessary certain items and resources are for newly arrived H-2A workers,
We learned that all items given were a necessity. All the H2A workers were thoughtful, kind and gracious that we gave them these sorts of resources (duffle bag, handkerchief, hygiene kit, water bottle, socks, beanie, clothing, food, beverages). Plus all the other items the other agencies gave them.They actually sat through the entire event to hear us speak and talk to them about information. We spoke about legal services that Jennifer Rodriguez has spoken to us about, especially the new rights for ag workers. (SLV, 18119, June 2022)
Across the state, promotores report also helping H-2A visa workers with sourcing appliances like phones, mini-fridges, microwaves, AC units, and fans. The promotora work is ongoing throughout the H-2A worker’s time in the US. While certain things are needed when they arrive, these needs change and shift with the weather and future plans. For example, many workers also need to go shopping or attend appointment before they return to their home country. In North regions 1 and 2, some workers are brought in for only a couple months and are set to leave back to Mexico in July. These workers, like newly arrived ones, also need to find transportation into town to run errands, including legal and medical access, before their travel home.
Such support is part of COVID prevention and risk reduction as out consistent contact with such workers helps to ensure COVID safety precautions are being followed, that medical appointments are being kept, and that travelers in and out of our state are protected to the best of our ability.
Promotores are not unique in our knowledge of how best to support H-2A workers. Employers who regularly hire H-2A workers are also familiar with these struggles they face. While some do not take steps to support these workers, there are others who are responsive. It is important to highlight when employers show compassion and have the ability to support the transition of visa workers into their temporary life in Colorado. In the Southeast, Ms. Diane Mendez reported on how one employer has been making improvements year over year for the quality of life of H-2A workers he hires. She and her team member, Ms. Sandra Gonzalez, met seven workers to deliver shirts, gloves, hygiene kits, covid tests, and duffel bags. During the visit
We let them know if the new changes this year about the shade water temperature breaks etc. [SB 21-087] They told us that they didn't have issues with the boss and that he is really good to them. Upon their arrival, he gave all 7 workers $500 to get things they needed. They mentioned he had done the same last year. Last year he had told them that he would take a certain amount out of each check to pay it back. But they said he never did. This year they got new furniture in the apartment. They mentioned he supplies them with water and Gatorade everyday for work. We asked about the trucks if they were limited to the usages. They said no he told them they can go to Pueblo or La Junta for anything they need. All the workers seem very happy with their employer. (Southeast, RD497, June 2022)
This employer understood not only the daily needs of workers – indicated by new furniture, truck use, and water and Gatorade – he also understood their needs upon arrival and compensated them for the initial purchases since they had not received their first paycheck yet.
Unfortunately, not all employers have this same forethought. In North 1, there was an H-2A housing unit that did not pass inspection causing delays for H-2A visa workers who were expecting to arrive for work in June. This effect rippled outward in the workers on this farm, putting pressure on the current employees to complete more work without the increased labor force.
With the hottest part of the summer approaching in July and August, we have already started to hear reports of how climate, including extreme heat, droughts, and monsoon season in Southeast, is affecting both workers and the agriculture industry. The next report will detail the conditions under which workers are laboring and how the Network can respond to these needs while maintaining focus on the pandemic which continues to be a challenge for all of Colorado.
This report was prepared by Kassandra Neiss and Mark Ludke. Contributions from Koralia De Lara, Ezperanza Saucedo, Ana Chacon, Cecilia Garcia, Rosalinda Garcia, Kelly Perez, Amanda Alanis, Diane Mendez, and Sandra Gonzalez.
July 15, 2022
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Data Activist and Systems Manager | Frontline Farming