How climate change drives farmworker activism

From wildfires and drought to lost work days due to soaring temperatures, the changing climate is fast becoming another issue that farmworkers must contend with. One way they’re doing that is by organizing, according to FERN’s latest story, published with The Nation.

Reporter Audrea Lim tells the story of Ramon Barba Torres, who left California for Washington State to escape the extreme heat, and wound up leading a farmworker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. “It is both a time of hope for farmworkers, and also one of growing concern, as climate change is adding to the challenges the workers, and their representatives, must deal with,” she writes. “Torres sees farmworkers continuing to arrive from California, drawn not only by the union’s capacity to secure better working conditions and pay, but also to escape California’s heat.”

As Lim explains, the “hottest year in recorded history was 2016, followed by 2017, 2015 and 2018, and California’s summers have increasingly been punctuated  by record-breaking heat waves. A 2018 California government report  projected even more severe heat waves, droughts and wildfires for the future, with major public-health consequences for residents and workers, who will be exposed to more intense smoke, heat and disease.”

In August 2017, a worker at a Washington blueberry farm collapsed and died after several days of working in fields clouded by smoke from wildfires just across the border in Canada. This spurred Torres and other workers to rent land and launch a cooperative farm, Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad, owned and operated by workers.

Lim writes: “They wanted more control — over things like the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which they worried were harming the health of consumers, including their families, and the workers being exposed to them daily—but also over whether it was too hot or smoky to work on a given day.”