In mid-2020, a few months after COVID-19 struck the United States, University of Maryland Associate Professor Devon Payne-Sturges began hearing stories about migrant and seasonal farm workers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore getting sick but still going to work—a dangerous choice that didn’t surprise her.
During the pandemic, they were deemed “essential” and had to come to work, she said, or risk being fired if they stayed home.
“Legally, farm workers are exempt from overtime pay,” said Payne-Sturges, of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the School of Public Health. “They don’t have health care, and they don’t have sick leave. These are policy decisions made on purpose that are creating vulnerabilities.”