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Daily News Blog

12
Mar

Washington Farmworkers Harmed by Pesticides Walk Out, Demand Justice

(Beyond Pesticides, March 12, 2020) Farmworkers walked out of an orchard in Sunnyside, Washington on Friday, March 6 to demand improved working conditions. Over a dozen individuals cited unacceptable issues, such as toxic pesticide exposure, unfair wages, and lack of paid breaks. Their employer, Evans Fruit, owns and farms over 8,000 acres in the state. These workers represent the ongoing fight against injustice perpetuated by the chemical-intensive agriculture industry.

Evans Fruit workers said the company gives insufficient protective gear and training before requiring workers to spray pesticides for most of their 12 to 15-hour workdays. Jorge de los Santos, who has worked for Evans Fruit for five years, told the Yakima Herald, “My eyes (were) constantly irritating me.”

“All we’re asking for is for fair wages and fair (working conditions),” said Rene Isidoro, another farmworker.

Evans Fruit declined to comment, but worker representatives said the company has been unwilling to negotiate. “The company basically said it was their way or the highway,” said United Farm Workers (UFW) of America Pacific Northwest coordinator Victoria Ruddy.

“We are good workers, responsible workers,” Ms. Isidoro said, “We like the work we do. We want to do better in our work. We’re here simply to ask for better working conditions.”

Farmworkers are a frontline community to the fight against toxic pesticides. Doctors annually diagnose up to 20,000 poisonings among agricultural workers – and that statistic only represents what is publicly reported. Working mothers are exposed to chemicals that can have long-lasting impacts on their unborn children, such as brain function damage.

Farmworkers are courageous to stand up for their rights, as they face hurdles of vulnerability such as immigration status and limited rights. “Oftentimes workers are too scared to come forward,” said Isidoro.

Federal laws exclude farmworkers from basic protections like the National Labor Relations Act, which forbids employers from firing employees for union organizing, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that requires overtime pay be 1.5 times the regular wage. Farmworker exclusion from FLSA also means that workers on small farms are not guaranteed minimum wage and allows children twelve and over to legally work in the fields. 

This current fight of the Sunnyside farmworkers hearkens back to historic leadership of organizers like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, whose work is inextricable from the advent of the environmental justice movement. Author and organizer Randy Shaw described this history in the 2017 documentary Dolores, stating, “The environmental justice movement said that certain environmental hazards are disproportionately impacting on people of color. It wasn’t simply stopping DDT, but it was also making the larger point, you’re only allowing this because of who the workers are, and their race and class background.”

Currently, the average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. This is similar to the life expectancy of individuals living in the 1850s and is completely unacceptable for any industry today. Beyond Pesticides was founded in 1981 out of conversations with farmworkers about their sicknesses and miscarriage rates, and the lack of training, protective equipment, clean drinking water, and sanitation in the fields. It was clear then, as it is now, that the political process ignores or even facilitates ongoing poisoning.  Beyond Pesticides believes that we should stand up for those who harvest our food and support farmworkers like those from Evans Fruit. Furthermore, Evans Fruit – which touts a commitment to “social and environmental responsibilities” on its website – should forgo toxic chemicals that poison their workers and transition to organic.

Source: Yakima Herald

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5 Responses to “Washington Farmworkers Harmed by Pesticides Walk Out, Demand Justice”

  1. 1
    Elizabeth Schwartz Says:

    At the same time that the Administration seeks to transform the farm labor force of 2.4 million people into a workforce of 21st-century indentured servants, it is demonizing hard-working immigrants and ratcheting up cruel, heartless and counterproductive arrests and deportations, targeting many of our nation’s current experienced and valued farmworkers.”
    Protecting farmworkers from toxic chemicals will lead to heathier foods and healthier pollinator populations.

  2. 2
    Lisa Hammermeister Says:

    Protect farmworkers.

  3. 3
    Theresa Kardos Says:

    As an environmental educator and field biologist, a parent, and a citizen who cares about environmental justice, I support the farmworkers’ demands for better conditions and protective gear. Some of the pesticides – which the EPA should have banned by now – are extremely hazardous. Not only are the farmworkers themselves exposed, but frequently their families, who tend to live nearby, may be exposed to pesticide “drift”. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects and do not know when this exposure may occur.

  4. 4
    Paula Rust Says:

    Pesticides are truly destructive & disgusting

  5. 5
    Anthony Maista Says:

    Justice for Washington farm workers harmed by pesticides

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  • Archives

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