CDM, a binational migrant rights organization based in the U.S. and Mexico, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have signed a five-year cooperative agreement to attempt to prevent and control infectious disease among migrant workers in protein (meat/poultry/seafood) processing industries. In its first year, the demonstration phase of the project aims to reach up to 19,000 workers in the Delmarva region (encompassing areas of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) with guidance and best practices on disease prevention. The project will also support workers’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities relating to workplace health and safety. The initial effort is funded by a $1.7 million grant and will also provide data to the CDC to inform new guidelines and best practices, including vaccination strategies.

Workers in the U.S. protein industry, many of them migrant workers, have limited access to basic services, including healthcare. In December of 2020, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported that foreign-born workers at meat and poultry processing facilities including in Maryland are especially vulnerable to SARS CoV-2 infection due in part to communications barriers and public health hazards at work and in the community. The study further recommended that partnership with community-based organizations and labor groups “to disseminate culturally and linguistically tailored messages about risk reduction behaviors” could make a difference in workers’ health outcomes.

As part of this grant, CDM is coordinating a regional network of organizations to provide technical assistance to the project.

“Through our 15 years supporting migrant workers, we know that coalition-building should be at the heart of any effective crisis response,” said Rachel Micah-Jones, Founder and Executive Director of CDM.

Migrant workers who have contacted CDM during the pandemic report going to work while showing COVID-19 symptoms for fear of not receiving pay, even if it meant exposing their colleagues to infection. While most workers’ first language is Spanish, an increasing number speak indigenous languages such as Mixtec and Nahuatl, complicating public health outreach.

“Tailoring information to workers’ needs is critical to successfully suppressing outbreaks and coordinating vaccination efforts,” said Julia Coburn, CDM’s Project Director. “Creating multilingual content cross print and digital resources is part of the equation, but it also requires tapping into existing communication channels that can reach workers with the right information at the right time. The trust CDM and our partner organizations have built over the years with migrant worker communities is critical to these efforts.”

Alongside project partners, CDM has leveraged a wide range of tactics in the information campaign, including distributing printed materials and sharing information digitally via Facebook, WhatsApp and — the organization’s migrant worker platform. As part of the grant, will be equipped with an automated chatbot, giving workers 24/7 access to advice, guidance and emergency support free from employer surveillance and intimidation.

According to Michael Flynn, CDC Technical Lead for the project, “Early results of this partnership include the formation of multi-stakeholder regional network; distribution of PPE and informational materials to hundreds of protein processing workers on Delmarva multilingual social media and radio-based outreach achieving hundreds of thousands of followers engagements; and the launch of a multilingual #covidchat campaign centering CDC guidance on COVID-19 vaccination.”