Essential workers do not have the opportunity to work from home during this pandemic. Included in such essential workers are farm workers. Californian farm workers not only risk exposure to COVID-19, but exposure to to heat and wildfires. The elements, radiation, and chemicals that these wildfires give off can be deadly.
From a strawberry farm in California, Erika Mahoney of NPR reports that the air quality on these farms waiver. On bad days, the sky is a burning orange. Ash and debris fall from the sky. The smoke becomes so thick that workers have trouble breathing. On the worst days, they must stop working for their health and safety. Farm workers are paid based on how much inventory they pick in a day. When they are forced to stop working, they do not get paid. In some instances, they must stop for days.
The Californian agriculture industry has a huge impact on the United States. Farm workers are directly responsible for feeding the world. Yet they grapple with providing food for their own families due to wildfires, and now COVID-19, preventing them from working.
Although there are some guidelines in place to protect farm workers, the messaging of these guidelines is intentionally confusing. While employers must provide masks for their employees, it is not mandatory that the workers wear them. Also, a majority of employers do not supply their workers with the recommended N-95 masks.
It is worth noting, Latinx workers make up most of the staff at these California farms. It is not a coincidence that the neighborhoods where farms are located, 70% of all COVID-19 cases affect the Latinx community. Often times, farm workers will go back to work despite risking exposure and therefore infect the rest of their family and community. As a direct result, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the Latinx community.
Blaming these workers who are trying to make ends meet is wrong. They often do not have any other choice but to go back to work despite the air quality and on-going pandemic. They are more distressed over feeding their families and paying rent that they put themselves in harms way. Farm workers risk their lives daily so that they still have a life to live.
Donate to Wildfire Relief Fund by visiting the California Community Foundation.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.