Wildfires continue to exacerbate working conditions for farmworkers in California

'We must protect the hands that feed us': Wildfires continue to exacerbate unbearable working conditions for farm workers in California


Battling a heatwave, smoke from wildfires, and COVID, conditions continue to worsen for migrant farmworkers across California. According to a new poll by United Farm Workers Foundation, 84% of California farmworkers have not been given any protective gear as hundreds of wildfires continue to rage across the state. Now more than ever, farmworkers are facing unbearable working conditions.

Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California.

As the fires burn

In the span of two weeks, almost 900 wildfires have burned over 1.46 million acres of land. Intense thunderstorms on August 16th and 17th caused by moisture from Tropical Storm Fausto, sparked many of the wildfires.

While many counties are starting to lift evacuation orders, thousands of farmworkers have been in the field working to harvest fruit and greens under tremendous heat and thick smoke. Many had to choose between evacuating and losing their jobs.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, wildfire smoke contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that reduce lung functioning. These particles can also worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions while causing coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), mandates that employers provide N95 masks or equivalent if the Air Quality Index is over 150. However, UFW states that the agency is not enforcing these standards in the field — just issuing reminders

“Agribusiness is receiving billions of dollars in disaster relief funding, and there is nothing that says any of that funding needs to be used towards hazard pay or the protection of farmworkers,” says Diana Torres, president of UFW, in an interview with Allegheny Front.

United Farm Workers offers some aid

In the midst of the fires, the United Farm Workers Foundation is securing and distributing over 50,000 N95 masks to farmworkers across the state. N95 masks —already in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic — are the only masks strong enough to filter PM2.5 particles caused by the wildfires. On August 30th, The Port of Los Angeles and CMA CGM Group donated an additional 75,000 respiratory face masks to UFW.

Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, and other early organizers, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s first enduring and largest farmworkers union. The union organizes and champions legislation and reforms for farmworkers in major agricultural regions such as California and Oregon.

You can further the work of UFW on November 3rd by voting for candidates offering science-based solutions to climate change. Join the movement of mothers promising to vote for the future — make a pinky promise to #VoteLikeAMadre this year.

Disclaimer: This sponsored article was produced and distributed in partnership with Latino Victory Project, in support of the Vote Like a Madre campaign.

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