A farmworker inspects a strawberry under gray skies in a field near Moss Landing, California. Photograph: Robert Galbraith/REUTERS
Although the air in our central coast area has finally improved, wildfires continue to ravage our state and globe. Today, the Autumnal Equinox marks the beginning of Fall 2020 which is predicted to be the worst of California's fire season.
"While many of the state’s largest fires occur in late summer, the deadliest and most destructive blazes tend to occur at the tail end of the dry season, from September to December. The most hazardous setups are when strong downslope/offshore winds (typically called Diablo winds in northern California and Santa Ana winds in southern California) arrive before the first heavy rains of autumn." -Bob Henson, Autumn could deliver the worst of California's 2020 fire season
We are continuing to see the worsening effects of climate change as we enter another heatwave this week on the Central Coast with temperatures predicted to hit 91° in Watsonville. Extreme heat not only exacerbates the conditions for wildfires but also threatens the health and safety of farmworkers.
In order to safeguard the health and safety of farmworkers, we must enact legislation and regulations that protect and empower vulnerable populations. This is why, we at Regeneración are writing to local, state, and federal agencies to advocate for the improved protections for farmworkers from the threats of climate change, specifically wildfire smoke. We are asking that you join us.
Below is the letter we have sent to various local and state politicians, which includes a bulleted list of demands which we invite others to include in their advocacy and expand on. We hope that you and your membership will also send letters on these issues and, as possible share your actions with us. The voices of you and your peers on these issues strengthen our collective advocacy.
Regeneracion - Pajaro Valley Climate Action’s mission is to help our community adapt and flourish as the climate changes so that everyone can thrive and live in harmony with the natural world. Advocacy for just and equitable laws and policies is key to our work, as is collaborating with community partners to activate a local movement for climate justice.
Nancy and Natalie
We at Regeneraciòn are writing to advocate for providing immediate improved protections for farmworkers who are continuing to work outside in unhealthy air, extreme heat, pesticide exposure, and with continued threats of COVID-19.
We must consider and address the compounding threats that farmworkers face as they are forced to inhale smoke-filled air and work in extreme heat, all while fully covered to protect themselves from pesticides, COVID-19, and environmental hazards.
Farmworkers should be provided with all necessary Personal Protective Equipment by either their employer or local governing boards- specifically N95 masks for smoke and reusable masks for COVID protection. Workers should also be ensured hazard pay and allowed to stay home on days when the air quality is in the Unhealthy - Hazardous range (AQI is above 151). Currently, farmworkers are not ensured sick pay and risk losing their jobs if they don't show up for work, regardless of the hazardous conditions.
Although there will be crop losses if people are not able to harvest food, we need to prioritize the health and safety of workers as they continue to be on the frontline of the harmful effects of climate change. We cannot risk or sacrifice the health of any group of people as a result of our failures to address climate impacts.
Farmworkers are one of the largest sectors of the workforce being exposed to unhealthy air and unlike construction workers, have almost no protections. In order to adequately deal with the impacts of our changing climate, we must provide for and prioritize the health of ALL people.
We are descending into climate chaos more rapidly than scientists predicted, and the increase of fires, droughts, floods, and sea-level rise is beginning to impact us on a much larger scale. We must recognize that EVERYONE's health is on the line.
We know that polluted air has immediate negative health effects including sore throats, difficulty breathing, and can make people more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. We must also consider the long term risks of breathing in smoke which is not just from trees burning but contains household toxins including plastic, bleach, ammonia, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and more.
We ask that farmworkers are provided with all the information necessary for their safety and accompanying information explaining clearly the connection between the extreme weather we're experiencing this year and the climate crisis.
Regeneracion is available to share our bilingual brochures on climate impacts and heat stress prevention, and with your support, could print enough for every farmworking family.
We respectfully request:
● Establishing a confidential hotline for farmworkers to report agricultural concerns related to farmworker safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, wildfire smoke, and the safe use of pesticides;
● Creating and sharing public service announcements on radio and tv regarding personal protection and linking extreme weather events to climate change;
● Delivering infographics through workplaces on worker safety and health;
● Not penalizing workers for staying home on unhealthy days;
● Allowing farmworkers a bad air day bank of days that individuals can draw on, receive pay, and not be penalized;
● Creating a pathway for citizenship for undocumented workers;
● Ensuring that there is localized monitoring of conditions in fields to ensure responsibility and accountability in the protection of workers;
Ultimately we need to transform our society into one that prioritizes the health and well-being of all as well as the maintenance of a healthy environment.
Natalie Olivas, Community Organizer
Nancy Faulstich, Executive Director