Heat protections for workers is ‘a matter of life and death’
Amidst record heat across the Pacific Northwest, the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation are urging Washington state Governor Jay Inslee to immediately issue emergency heat standards protecting all farm and other outdoor workers. The state’s current heat standards fall short of safeguards the UFW first won in California in 2005 and strengthened in 2015 that have prevented countless deaths and illnesses from heat stroke. Unlike workers in California, Washington state farm workers do not have the right to shade and breaks during extreme temperatures as well as in-place emergency plans and training. The current Washington standards are also seasonal, only in affect between the months of May and September.
“I was off today so I was helping distribute water and information to the cherry harvesters,” said Martha Acevedo, a wine grape worker from Sunnyside, Washington. “They were struggling. No shade, not even cold water. I’m afraid people will die. This is beyond hot weather. This is an emergency.”
“This heat wave is a matter of life and death,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “Shade and rest at the workplace are basic yet critical rights farm workers still lack in Washington. Heat is battering the workers who feed us. How can we call them essential yet deny them something so basic as the right to shade and rest to prevent death and illness during perilous weather?”
“Unless Governor Inslee acts quickly to put standards in place similar to what we won in California, Washington state farm and outdoor workers will become sick and some will die,” said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero. “At peak season there are children as young as 12 in those fields.”