In an era where many things don’t make sense (and are frequently enraging), the way we treat our essential workers still manages to stand out. We’ve been reminded of just how important farmworkers, truckers, and grocery workers are to providing affordable, accessible food, and to keeping our economy humming along. But still – minimum wage hasn’t budged in over a decade, and worker protections in the US rank behind almost every other country in the world.   

The worst, though, and by far, is the way we treat farmworkers, particularly our undocumented community members. As Jean Guerrero’s excellent piece in the LA Times points out, California depends on 500,000 undocumented farmworkers (about 75% of the total needed to harvest our crops), yet these critically important community members are treated incredibly badly: wages are poor to begin with, and wage theft is rampant; the work is physically demanding, often damaging onto dangerous; and they face living in fear every day because they are willing to do this difficult work to feed their families. The injustice is outrageous.

Exposure to smoke and heat is dangerous.

All outdoor workers need increased protection in general, but also specifically from the impact of smoke and heat. Smoke from wildfires is very dangerous to breathe; there is no safe level of exposure to the finest particles (referred to as PM2.5), abundant in smoke (and in emissions from burning dirty fuels too), and the damage is cumulative, causing respiratory, vascular and other serious health problems. 

Heat is also a threat, particularly for those exerting themselves outdoors. According to another excellent article in the LA Times, more than 400 people a year die from extreme heat: their estimate is above the official count because heat exacerbates underlying issues. Of course global warming is driving big increases in the number of high heat events, and outdoor workers are increasingly exposed. 

Take Action

Sign this petition by North Bay Jobs with Justice to ask Sonoma County winemakers and elected officials to protect farmworkers in Sonoma County, providing:

  • Language justice: safety and evacuation training materials in multiple languages
  • Disaster insurance for workers: Growers get disaster insurance; workers should too
  • Community monitoring: training and allowing community members to monitor for safety
  • Hazard pay: increased rates during smoke and heat events
  • Clean bathrooms and water: that this is a special request is appalling

Spread the movement! Link to share this blog. This is an approach that can be spread throughout the Bay Area. Anyone who works outdoors needs protection against smoke and heat, and workers without documentation are both essential and vulnerable.

In solidarity, with hope for a brighter future for everyone.