SEATTLE – Washington state farmworkers were among the most vulnerable during the Northwest’s deadly heat wave. As the state feels more effects from climate change, their advocates are calling for greater protections.
Rosalinda Guillen is the executive director of Community to Community Development and said there are some obvious threats from extreme heat, such as dehydration.
But she added there are other threats, such as the increased use of chemicals and pesticides on farms to keep them producing the way they do under current conditions.
“The biggest threat, really, for farmworkers is the lack of consideration from state agencies and health departments for workplace protections,” said Guillen. “There’s no real effort being made to change production practices.”
Community to Community Development wants the state to convene a legislative work session on labor in agriculture this year, before next year’s session. Guillen said this is a vital issue considering Washington state is the top producer of a number of crops, including apples, blueberries and hops.
She said one important change for farmworkers would be to make them hourly workers.
“Don’t overwork farmworkers’ bodies in inclement weather in order to keep the production levels the same as they’ve always been,” said Guillen.
During the 2021 legislative session, Washington state farmworkers won a hard-fought victory for overtime pay. And last year, the Department of Health granted workers temporary housing during the pandemic.
Edgar Franks, political director with the farmworkers union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, said more protections will require more pressure.
“Everything we got last year was because we were pushing for more,” said Franks, “whether it be the emergency rules on housing, the overtime bill in Washington. So it wasn’t because it was just nice people trying to be nice to workers. It was because workers were fighting for it.”
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.