As some Californians are urged to stay indoors due to toxic smoke, farmworkers continue working
As multiple deadly fires have forced some school districts in California to shut down classes and led some workplaces to urge employees to work from home for a few days, another group of workers is still laboring outside and breathing in toxic smoke.
Multiple viral images show farmworkers continuing to labor in fields as heaps of dark smoke from the Woolsey fire in southern California loom overhead. In one photo, no visibly-clear air can been seen as several figures harvest in the fields. At least one worker does not appear to be wearing a protective face mask.
The Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) told Pacific Standard that “even though California’s labor laws call for employers to determine if conditions are too harmful for farmworkers to work … state officials rarely travel to rural areas to enforce these protections.” Many work because they simply have no choice but to work.
“Unfortunately, when farmworkers can’t work due to the hazardous conditions,” CAUSE’s Lucas Zucker told Remezcla, “they lose income because they are often paid piece rate (by the box picked), and if they are undocumented are unable to qualify for federal disaster relief.” Yet undocumented workers pay billions in taxes annually.
Farmworkers also continued to work during firestorms in the state last year, though in some family-owned vineyards in northern California, employers stood side-by-side with workers in trying to save their land. “This time around,” Remezcla continues, “CAUSE saw a rise in farmworkers wearing protective masks, but ‘still too many without protection.’”
The fires have now killed 66 people and hundreds more are missing, according to recent numbers. “Natural disasters disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color,” Think Progress reports, leaving farmworkers particularly vulnerable. During your next meal, remember that undocumented farmworkers feed America, and ask what yourself what you can do to help support them.