Farm Workers Face Double Threat: Wildfire Smoke And COVID-19

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Farm workers do not have the option to work from home in California. They faced the elements not just covert. But also record heat and wildfires Eric Mahoney of K.. A. Z.. You reports from a strawberry field in Salinas California. farmworkers swiftly picks a row of strawberries. He tosses to the ground, the bruise berries that won't sell the others into their plastic clam shells. The, air quality is better on this day but just a few weeks ago the sun glowed orange and ash family. The Sky after a wildfire erupted nearby has do sell Mata. The foreman says the smoke was so thick in mid August that it hurt the cruise sinuses for. We must. Be We. Stop for our safety. He says, we had to stop for one day and that wasn't easy call. He's in charge of sixty five people who are paid more money. The more they pick it's been a tremendously difficult year Dr Caroline Kennedy Cares for farmworkers. She directs nine clinics in Monterey County where agriculture is a leading industry you they home when the air quality doesn't make you feel well or do you just go back to work these are markers who are predominantly Latino feed the world yet they're struggling to feed their own families and They've been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in Monterey County alone more than seventy percent of cases are among the Tino's often they go back to very congested living situations and everyone in the family is infected cove nineteen patients tell Kennedy. They just can't take a deep breath that's compounded by wildfire smoke under a California regulation that took effect last year employers must provide proper masks to outdoor workers when air quality degrades to a certain level whether or not the workers are required to actually put on the mask depends on how bad the air quality is. The messaging is confusing says Richard Steadman who runs the regional air resources district when the air is bad the general public is told to stay indoors what I see workers being advised that can go out into the field and exert themselves as long as they have in their possession, a mask that's not very protective. The united farm workers says even so enforcement of the regulation is a problem Armando Alana's is with the UAW? The vast majority of farmers were not provided have not been provided and ninety five mass. You W conducted a statewide poll in August to get a better understanding of the situation workers told Atlanta's there is felt like they were burning, but you know they were they were more worried about. Trying to make ends meet trying to pay the rent with multiple wildfires in California and pandemic. That's making and ninety five's hard to find the state answered calls for help and shipped around one point four million masks two counties throughout the State Henry Gonzales the Agricultural Commissioner for Monterey County says he's received over three, hundred, thirty, thousand were. Really the odds and we were able to get those considering their scarcity. Back. At the strawberry field in Salinas Gonzales watches worker is snapped closed the fruit containers he says showing up to this job can be a risk, but the produce can't wait. They're ready when they're ready and if you're not there to harvest, they're going to go to waste which means less money for companies, smaller paychecks, farmworkers, and fewer strawberries in grocery carts losses that might be necessary to protect farm workers help. For NPR News America Mahoney in Salinas

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