In Olympia, Calls for Greater Safeguards Against Heat for Farmworkers

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The farmworkers union Familias Unidas por la Justicia and other supporters are outside the Department of Labor and Industries, which implemented emergency rules in the wake of a heat wave that killed hundreds in the Northwest.

It requires employers to provide shade or some way of cooling down workers when temperatures reach 100 degrees.

Liz Darrow, legislative advocate for the nonprofit Community to Community Development, which is supporting the action, argued the rules are inadequate and part of a larger pattern.

“The rules themselves are not in favor of health and safety for farmworkers,” Darrow asserted. “And this kind of echoes what we have gone through since the beginning of the pandemic trying to get reasonable health and safety protection for farmworkers who are deemed essential but continue to be treated as second-class citizens.”

The emergency rules also require more rest breaks in extreme heat. The agency is writing a permanent rule for next summer, and did not respond to a request for comment

Some farm operators have pushed back on the rules, saying more regulations aren’t necessary.

The summer also is wildfire season, exposing workers to another hazard: smoke. Darrow noted farmworkers wear layers to protect their skin from pesticides and sun exposure.

“Those temperatures are extreme already,” Darrow remarked. “So working any amount of time in those conditions with the wildfire smoke is an obvious safety concern, and it will create more illness and more death. And so the bottom line is that we’re trying to keep people safe and keep people alive.”

Darrow added there is also concern about how the new rules will be enforced.

During the Northwest’s heat wave in June, an Oregon farmworker died due to the extreme temperatures. Today’s event also is honoring Honesto Silva Ibarra, a Washington state farmworker who died working in hot, smoky conditions four years ago.

Photo: Washington state farmworker Honesto Silva Ibarra died in hot conditions in 2017. (Edgar Franks)

Eric Tegethoff

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.

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