California farmworkers are battling for their health as they continue to put food on our tables, combatting extreme heat, wildfire smoke and COVID-19 all at the same time.
These essential workers are essentially on their own as their employers, state lawmakers and government agencies, all tasked with protecting their safety, have left them to their own devices.
Despite legislation that went into effect last year requiring growers to provide N95 masks for workers when the Air Quality Index reaches 150 or higher, a United Farm Worker poll conducted last week found that 84% of farmworkers have not been given the masks from their employers.
Sadly, largely due to budget constraints, Cal/OSHA has been unable to put inspectors in the fields to monitor compliance and protect the hundreds of thousands of farmworkers putting in grueling work in unsafe conditions.
The heat and wildfire smoke are taking their toll on a Latinx population already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Latinx community make up roughly 39% of the state population but have accounted for nearly 60% of positive coronavirus cases in California, and nearly 50% of COVID-19 deaths, according to data from the California Department of Health website as of August 26.
Farmworkers, who are 90% Latinx, have struggled to socially distance in the face of packed housing conditions and crowded buses used to transport to worksites. Coupled with a lack of PPE, lack of access to affordable health care or paid time off to quarantine if they become infected, farmworkers are one of the most vulnerable essential working populations.
However, they’ve mainly been left out of conversations surrounding any of the three bills being considered by state lawmakers that would provide a workers’ compensation presumption for essential workers. And, as a group, they’ll likely be left out of any presumption legislation that gets enacted.
Pandemic or no pandemic, farmworkers are an essential part of our everyday lives, yet often struggle to put food on their own tables while doing the backbreaking work to feed not just California, but a wide swath of America. They deserve better.