A new report coauthored by postdoctoral fellow and recent graduate Hunter Knapp ('20) and University of Colorado Law School Associate Professor Alexia Brunet Marks seeks to protect Colorado food workers in their workplaces as they contribute their essential labor throughout the state’s food system.
COVID-19 has exposed the particular vulnerabilities of these essential food system workers, who include farmworkers, processing workers, warehouse and distribution workers, retail and food service workers, and last-mile delivery workers.
Recommendations offered in the Colorado COVID-Responsive Essential Food System Worker Policy Agenda, presented to Gov. Jared Polis in August, include providing paid sick leave, family leave, and personal protective equipment to essential food system workers; addressing workplace conditions; and closing gaps in state and federal laws and funding. Brunet Marks, who serves on the Colorado Coronavirus Farm and Food Systems Task Force, and Knapp worked with Project Protect Food Systems to write the report, which was published in the University of Colorado Law Review Online Forum.
“Food system workers have been undervalued, at best, and often exploited," the report states. "The cruel irony of this disregard was thrown into sharp relief when, as part of the pandemic response, workers throughout the food system were deemed 'essential.' The 'Essential Worker' designation turns an inconvenient truth into an undeniable one: all people—and all Coloradans—rely upon food system workers to meet their basic needs in times of calm and crisis. Now that our collective dependence on FSWs has been laid bare, it is time to offer them dignity, respect, and support in tangible forms."
Knapp hopes that people who read the report see concrete steps that the government can take to protect workers in the workplace, as well as workers and their families outside the workplace.
“That two-pronged approach can ensure that communities are able to stay safe and healthy while food system workers continue to provide their essential labor for the people of Colorado," he said. "Some priorities, like requiring businesses to post all COVID-19 related information in languages accessible to employees, demand immediate action, while others, such as empowering community-based healthcare systems, can create benefits for Colorado long after we persevere the COVID-19 crisis."
"Hunter is an asset to Project Protect Food Systems and his contribution to the paper—and to the task force—has been invaluable. He is a problem-solver who works tirelessly for the rights of those living at the margins,” Brunet Marks said.
The report is one of several community-facing projects Knapp has undertaken as a postdoctoral fellow. He has worked with other Colorado Law faculty members on projects related to COVID-19’s impact on immigrants and racial minority groups. This summer, he filed an agency comment with Associate Professor Ming Hsu Chen and Clinical Professor Violeta Chapin on the eligibility of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. This fall, he will work with Chen to research the impacts of COVID-19 on census undercounting, voting rights, and discrimination in Latinx and Asian communities, in addition to other projects related to the Immigration and Citizenship Law program.
"Hunter’s breadth of knowledge and depth of experience enables him to make a real impact on research and advocacy for immigrants," Chen said.
Knapp entered law school following a career in biology, and quickly realized his passion for immigration law and eliminating institutional racism. He learned from mentors such as Chen, for whom he served as a research assistant; Chapin, who teaches the Criminal/Immigration Defense Clinic; and Legal Writing Professor Megan Hall (’05), who teaches Refugee and Asylum Law.
"About a month into my first year of law school, President Trump and Jeff Sessions attempted to rescind DACA,” Knapp said. "That day, I reached out to Professor Megan Hall (my legal writing professor and former Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network attorney) to ask for her help understanding it all. At her office hours that week, she patiently walked me through the basics of immigration law and answered my questions about DACA, Trump's proposed wall, and everything else. I asked her what I could do to help as a first-year law student, and Professor Hall introduced me to another person who would become a mentor, Professor Violeta Chapin.”
Knapp will continue his work with essential food system workers this fall with a donation drive to increase access to education technology for families of food system workers and the development of a Farmworker Bill of Rights to ensure access to essential labor rights, such as a minimum wage and overtime pay.
He hopes to use his legal career to continue assisting immigrants, Colorado farmworkers, and other vulnerable members of society.
"Although 2020 has been a year of unprecedented turmoil, we need to endure this pandemic and prepare to meet future challenges by remaking our Emergency Management systems to be more equitable and inclusive," Knapp said.
- Professor Alexia Brunet Marks delivers a Colorado Law Talk on The Roles and Rights of Essential Food System Workers During COVID-19, combining stories of essential food workers with necessary reforms driven by her work on the Colorado COVID Food Systems Rapid Response Team.