Farm workers still continue to work even with extreme heat waves

August 18, 2023 /

For some farm workers, without federal heat protection, it could mean life or death. A lot of states in the United States do not have heat protection laws.

“The United Farm Workers Foundation demands OSHA establish a permanent heat standard so that farm workers and other outside workers can have a safe environment,” said Diana Tellefson, Chief Executive Officer of the UFW Foundation, in a press release.

In the month of July, two people have been killed by the heat. On July 5, 29-year-old Efrain Lopez Garcia in Homestead, Florida, and on July 20, 26-year-old Dario Mendoza near Yuma, Arizona.

“As climate change continues to give us record hot days, farm workers need basic protections that are too often denied to them, including shade, paid rest breaks, fresh drinking water, and training,” said UFW Foundation spokesperson Daniel Larios. “These are simple procedures that will save lives but that does not exist at the federal level.”

Larios said they urge farm workers to keep safe by staying hydrated and by learning how to identify heat-related illnesses. In order to protect workers nationwide, they also urge OSHA to establish a national heat standard immediately to ensure that all outdoor workers are protected from the dangers of extreme heat. 

“In California, it’s the law for employers to protect outside workers from the dangers of heat by providing them paid rest breaks, fresh water, training, and shade,” said Larios. “Workers who are not being provided these protections are encouraged to call the United Farm Workers Foundation at (661) 546-9020 to submit an anonymous report to Cal/OSHA. The UFW Foundation is able to assist workers in various languages, including indigenous languages.”

Delano farm worker Eva Romos said she started working in the fields to help her parents out with paying for bills and rent.

“I started working in the fields even with the extremely hot weather just so that my parents could work less hours. I want my parents to be safer so by me working I can help them out with money and they can work less and be home safe out of this hot heat,” said Romos. “I encourage people to sign the petition with OSHA so that farm workers can be protected and get paid water breaks because working in the heat is not a joke. Some resources that farm workers need are water, fruit, and snacks.”

Flor Martinez Zaragoza, 28, used to work in the fields with both parents, little sister, and grandpa Bracero. She said employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:

  • Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures
  • Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention
  • Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool, and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 32 ounces per hour and encourage workers to do so. Tell your mayordomos to encourage water breaks
  • Let them take breaks. We will actively be prepared to defend farm workers’ rights in the workplace, providing heat-related educational material and doing what we can to protect our essential workers. But farmers and employers need to do their part and will be held accountable

“Farm workers need to know their rights and call out injustice, it could save a life. These heat waves are nothing to play about. These humans are out here risking their lives under the scorching sun. They don’t have federal heat protections which makes no sense,” said Zaragoza.

Zaragoza said if you benefit from the labor of these humans, you all have a responsibility to give back to them. 

“There are so many ways to acknowledge them, either it be sending letters and making phone calls to congress advocating for labor and human rights or it is volunteering your time at food distributions or health fairs for farmworkers,” said Zaragoza. “It could be you becoming a monthly donor and giving a cup of coffee once a month to sponsor farm workers’ families with food, or even just educating your kids about how their food makes it to the grocery store and holding farm worker collection drives with their school. It starts with acknowledgment, respect, and appreciation for these people. When are their lives going to get easier? We need to protect farm workers.”