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Amid Wildfires, Heat, WA Farmworkers Call for Greater Protections


Monday, September 19, 2022   

Washington state farmworkers are facing harsh conditions in the midst of wildfires and late-summer heat. They're calling for greater protections from the elements.

Alfredo Juarez is a farmworker in northwest Washington and organizer with Community to Community Development. He said the wildfire smoke was a major issue last week, but farmworkers were still in the fields.

"There was an alert for people to stay home and only leave if it's an emergency to go out but other than that to stay home," said Juarez. "The farmworkers kept on working. They didn't have masks to work. So it's very dangerous."

Juarez said his organization has been handing out N-95 masks. He said the high temperatures have also been an issue.

Washington state has implemented heat rules that require employers to allow more rest periods if temperatures are 89 degrees or higher. But Juarez said the temperature threshold is too high and should come down to 75 degrees.

Edgar Franks is political director with the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia. He said he is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a climate emergency in the state, especially given the frequencies of recent weather-related disasters.

"This is not a problem that's just going to go away overnight," said Franks. "So we need the state to really take this seriously and move resources and have a clear plan to address specifically the damage that climate change is going to be doing to not only the environment but to workers and communities."

The governor's office says they are looking for ways to protect farmworkers but that declaring a climate emergency is not currently on the table.

Franks said not responding to the changing climate hurts agriculture.

"Agriculture used to have weather patterns and kind of a predictability," said Franks. "And now everything is up in the air, so that not only hurts industry but it also hurts workers."

Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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