As COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the country, wildfires in the western United States are compounding problems for the region’s farm workers.
“Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s farm worker poverty, whether it’s this pandemic – who’s suffering the most? It’s Blacks and Latinos,” Baldemar Velásquez, Founder and President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) tells Food Tank.
This year, wildfires have burned over 4.7 million acres of land, primarily in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, according to the National Interagency Fire Agency.
Mid-August saw an increase in fire activity and since then, the air quality index in many areas along the West coast has hovered at levels that range from unhealthy to hazardous.
In California, employers are required by law to supply masks to outdoor workers when air quality exceeds a certain threshold. But a recent poll conducted by United Farm Workers (UFW) found that 84 percent of the state’s farm workers did not receive a mask.
Although organizations like the UFW are distributing masks to farm workers, they say that the government must do more to keep workers safe.
Already, farm workers are in a vulnerable position. A Politico analysis finds that agricultural counties have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country.
And farm workers lack health care access, experience fear using medical services, and are excluded from state-wide and federal safety net programs, according to preliminary data from a study led by the California Institute of Rural Studies.
“[Farm workers] say ‘how is it possible that we are considered essential, but we’re not treated as such?’” Teresa Romero, President of the UFW tells Food Tank.
On the latest episode of the podcast, hear from Velásquez, Romero, as well as co-directors of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Sonia Singh and Suzanne Adely. They discuss the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change on farm workers and the lack of protections for essential workers.
You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple Podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.
Photo courtesy of United States Forest Service, Region 5