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California orders sick leave for essential food workers

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Los Angeles (AFP)

California on Thursday ordered that food workers, considered essential during the coronavirus pandemic, receive two weeks' extra paid sick leave if they are affected by the virus or quarantine orders.

Governor Gavin Newsom said the executive order would benefit "the people that grow our food... pick our food... pack our food, deliver our food, cook, serve and sell our food."

Almost all 40 million Californians are under orders to stay home due to the pandemic, with the exception of essential workers such as health, security and public transit employees.

But many food workers, including farmers and grocery store attendants, continue to work in fear that they will lose their jobs if they call in sick, said Newsom.

"We don't want you going to work if you are sick," he told a virtual news conference.

"If you're sick... it's okay to let your employer know -- and still know that you're going to get a supplemental paycheck for a minimum of two weeks."

Newsom said food workers could "easily dial it in, file for unemployment" but had continued to work "at great cost" and with dignity.

"I heard a few grocery workers say 'We're called essential workers, but increasingly we feel like we're disposable,'" said the governor.

"I want you to know you're not disposable, you are essential and you're valued."

The move, which applies to employees of large companies with more than 500 workers, was welcomed by the United Farm Workers (UFW).

"Protecting these small, tight-knit communities is vital to the protection of our food supply," said UFW president Teresa Romero.

Many workers in the sector are undocumented, meaning they cannot benefit from the federally approved relief plan.

Newsom on Wednesday announced California would allocate $125 million -- including public and private funds -- to support undocumented immigrants.

The proposal will offer $500 cash grants for individuals in the US illegally, and up to $1,000 for families.

"Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis," he said.

Ten percent of workers in California -- itself the world's fifth-largest economy -- are undocumented, according to NGO United We Dream.

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