Picking grapes during California wildfires

As California suffers through its worst wildfire season in modern history, agricultural workers are still going to work, risking heat, smoke, and Covid-19 to pick grapes and harvest strawberries, according to FERN’s latest story, broadcast on KQED’s WorldAffairs show. Teresa Cotsirilos reports that activists in Northern California worry that 2020’s historic combination of disasters is also fueling labor abuses.

“Experts in environmental health are concerned that relentless wildfires could fuel the pandemic, and farmworkers are already disproportionately impacted by the virus.  Agriculture has been deemed essential, and workers are often forced to live in crowded housing. When wildfires erupted in Sonoma County, several local advocates said that many farmworkers fled to friends and families’ homes rather than official evacuation centers, making living conditions even more crowded. Studies also suggest wildfire smoke could make people more susceptible to Covid-19,” Cotsirilos writes.

“It’s a very hard time to be a farmworker,” said David Hornung, a Senior Safety Engineer for California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), in the radio segment.  “Their [farmworkers’] fatality rate is five times that of general industry. You’ve got climate change making our summers hotter. On top of that, you’ve got Covid-19, and all of the hazards related to that. And then, on top of that, you’ve got the wildfire smoke.”

You can read the entire story on FERN or listen to it here at WorldAffairs in the Sept. 21, 2020 episode.