Monterey County farmworkers continue to pick fruits, vegetables in smokey conditions


MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – Air quality has been a major health concern for the immediate Bay Area but farther south, farmworkers have been seen outside continuing to pick our fruits and vegetables.

They are working in very smokey conditions.

There is no work from home option for field workers and a recent survey from United Farm Workers claimed that 84% of them across California have not been provided with an N-95 mask or PPE of a similar quality since the pandemic hit.

Now, they are faced with the danger of inhaling wildfire smoke.

The smoke from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire is reaching Monterey County.

Last week, pictures surfaced of field workers in Salinas outdoors with heavy smoke in the  background.

Andres Rodriguez shared a picture of his mom from last Wednesday saying she is lucky to be inside screens but in the back that is wildfire smoke.

The Department of Industrial Relations explains that it can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause difficulty breathing.

A community based advocacy group called Unidos has partnered with San Jose local flor Martinez and together they have collected donations.

“It was horrible, you just felt your chest clogged kind of like if you were smoking 10 or 20 cigarettes and I’m not even a smoker you know? It was just very hard to breathe and it gave me headaches and it gave my husband headaches and I feel like,  I imagine now, they are actually there for 10 hours Monday through Saturday. How horrible it must have been for them. Probably felt sick or felt headaches, migraines, especially with the pandemic it’s even more hard on them,” Christy Alfaro said. 

They found the field workers were actually more concerned about getting their children school supplies rather than  masks for themselves.

We’re seeing how dire their need  is after this picture surfaced in East Salinas of two kids using the internet outside a Taco Bell.

So migrant farm workers are dealing with multiple challenges right now.

A digital divide amid a pandemic and wildfire smoke.

Cal/OSHA posted guidelines for employers saying they need to provide proper protection when the air quality index reaches more than 150 but critics say that criteria should apply anytime it is worse than good. 

They shouldn’t have to wait for it to hit red on that chart.

While they might have had a break from thick smoke Monday, it may get worse again with winds pushing the plumes further south on Tuesday.

The Port of Los Angeles, donated 75,000 masks for  farmworkers statewide Monday.

We hear Facebook is pitching in PPE too.

That’s because the department of industrial relations explains surgical masks, scarves, t-shirts, and bandanas will not provide protection against wildfire smoke, they really need the N-95’s.

Meanwhile, Martinez and Unidos are working with the mother of the kids seen searching for the internet to get them help as well.

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