‘An impossible choice’: farmworkers pick a paycheck over health despite smoke-filled air

Sunday, July 20, 2020
By Vivian Ho, The Guardian

The strawberries that Juan Reyes hand-picked had turned gray from the ash falling from the sky, yet nobody provided him and his fellow farmworkers with any protective face coverings until the next day. As hundreds of fires burn across California, blanketing swaths of the state in smoke so thick that it muted the sun, low-wage farmworkers continued to toil in the fields, working through grueling conditions, now made even worse by the air quality.

“My throat was hurting,” Reyes, 38, said in Spanish. “There’s difficulty breathing. When I got home, my chest was hurting a lot.”

A vulnerable, essential labor force already disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic kept working as others fled and took shelter. More than 381,000 people across California work in the frontline essential agriculture industry, according to the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced, from the lush almond tree orchards in the north to the cornfields of the Central Valley.

Read the full story from The Guardian

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