A fierce debate over whether its permissible for hired farm hands to work outside when the air quality is classified as hazardous was prompted by a question we asked on Tuesday. Our inquiry to readers read “Do you think its ok for farm laborers to work during hazardous air quality conditions?” The question was prompted by concerns relayed to IFIBER ONE News by some who see farmers and their staff working outside when the smoke was at its thickest. 74% voted ‘no’ in response to the question and 24% voted ‘yes.’
People apparently opposed to those working outside in severely polluted air posted comments below our question.
“Safety first, then money,” wrote Humberto Jimenez.
“There are lots of jobs that require you to work outside. This isn’t just about ag workers. NO ONE should be working in these conditions, period,” wrote Gina Goodwin.
“Nope and if you said yes, I’d love to see you do it,” wrote Jovanni Pruneda.
Isaac Lnenicka, a farmer for Cloudview Farms in Ephrata begs to differ with the previous opinions.
“Yes, of course they should be allowed to work. Most of the “farm laborers” I’ve worked with would be pissed if they weren’t allowed to work during harvest. This is when they make most of their money. I’m shocked with how soft and pathetic society is becoming. Btw, if this trend of not working because it’s “too hazardous” continues, there’ll be food and product shortages. We, as a nation, have to produce as much as we consume. It’s pretty basic, you can’t print your way to prosperity,” Lnenicka stated on the iFIBER ONE News Facebook page.
“Agriculture is about timing. The fruit does just wait until it is convenient to pick. If it’s not picked on time then there is no fruit to pick. If cows aren’t milked because it’s inconvenient or smoky or cold or any other reason then in a couple days it doesn’t matter. There will be no milk to milk. The job still has to be done on time or it ceases to exist,” explained Gale Noyes.
“What is the alternative? Lose more crops? Farmers are out in it, people with livestock are out in it. Our livestock have to be out in it. If precautions are taken like masks then we need to get our crops harvested or we will never survive this,” wrote Jenny Krausse Pattison.
Some respondents stated that some workers are supplied with personnel protective equipment and others suggested that workers should be compensated with hazard pay when the deteriorating air quality reaches a certain threshold.
“Whether it’s wildfire, pandemic, drought or storm, farmworkers are out in the field,” Lucas Zucker, the policy and communications director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, told the Guardian in a similar article. “It’s a largely immigrant workforce, many undocumented. Many are from indigenous communities from southern Mexico who face even greater barriers to accessing services and reporting labor abuses.”
“Because of who most farmworkers are, because of the culture that has developed in agriculture, there are a lot of workers who don’t receive the safety conditions that are on paper,” he said. “There is also often a culture where if you speak up or say you don’t want to work, you may be seen as someone who is lazy or doesn’t want to work and you may not be called back for the next harvest.”
“People often want to say thank you to the farmworkers for feeding us and certainly we should all be grateful for the huge sacrifice that workers are marking,” Zucker told the Guardian. “But people are pushed to make an impossible choice during something like a pandemic or a wildfire.”
But, other orchardists in Washington state like Double M Orchard of Quincy is apparently making the choice to work easy for its staff. Juan De La Roza of Double M Orchard says it recently gave workers the day off due to lack of personal protective equipment. Once an adequate amount of PPE equipment arrived, people went back to work. Juan says wind, rain, snow, smoke, or shine, fruit needs to be harvested within a certain time frame to preserve optimal flavor and storage longevity.