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Amid heavy smoke, UFW helps Ventura County farm workers protect themselves

News coverage is focused on residents in neighborhoods across heavily urbanized Ventura County threatened by massive wildfires. Heavy smoke from the blazes is also endangering thousands of farm workers presently laboring on the county’s strawberry and celery farms.

Organizers at the United Farm Workers office in Oxnard responded after receiving dozens of phone calls from concerned field workers. The UFW is reaching out to workers at both unionized and non-union companies, encouraging them to exercise their right to protect themselves under California’s farm labor law by engaging in concerted action. State law safeguards two or more workers when they get together to take action over workplace issues. The results can be different at different farms.

Two examples of what those union efforts produced were seen this week. A former worker leader at a unionized strawberry farm who is now employed at a non-union berry ranch organized a group of co-workers. They convinced their boss to distribute 300 safety masks to crews laboring in the fields that day.

At another company, some workers wanted to go home because of poor air quality. They met with their supervisor who let them off early. But a majority of workers at the farm chose not to leave because they would not have been paid for the time off and they needed the money.

Farm workers worried about laboring in the smoke or needing help asserting their rights on the job can call the UFW Oxnard office at 805-486-9674. Community members seeking help with unemployment insurance or safety-net assistance and potential future disaster relief can speak with UFW Foundation staff at 805-246-3867. People can also go in person to the UFW/UFW Foundation office at 920 “A” St., Oxnard, Calif. 93030.