Body

 

May 3, 2022

 

The Honorable Anthony Portantino The Honorable Chris Holden

Chair, Appropriations Committee Chair, Appropriations Committee

California Senate California Assembly

Sacramento, CA 95814 Sacramento, CA 94249

 

RE: Support outdoor worker wildfire protection bills (AB 2847, AB 2538 and SB 1044)

 

Dear Senator Portantino and Assemblymember Holden:

 

On behalf of a coalition of organizations representing farmworkers and other outdoor workers, we urge you to support a package of bills designed to protect the health and safety of people who are essential to California’s agricultural economy but are subject to dangerous conditions during wildfires. These bills are AB 2847, AB 2538 and SB 1044, all of which have cleared their initial committees, and provide sensible and simple solutions that are long overdue. 

 

As California wildfires become increasingly frequent and severe, more than 400,000 farmworkers and other outdoor workers are often some of the first and most exposed to the damaging effects of wildfire smoke. In recent years, farmworkers routinely have been asked to tend crops in areas of heavy wildfire smoke, all the while risking their safety often in areas otherwise slated for evacuation. Moreover, they are asked to perform physically demanding manual labor surrounded by toxic air. This is supported by a recent report from the American Lung Association, which found 4 of the 10 regions with the worst air quality in the U.S. are agricultural communities in California: Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia and El Centro - a phenomenon exacerbated by wildfires. 

 

These problems are compounded by the fact that most farmworkers are excluded from the unemployment safety net because of their immigration status, face language barriers, and suffer long standing health disparities.  

 

Forcing farm and other outdoor workers to perform their job under such conditions is putting tens of thousands of fathers and mothers at risk of lung damage or worse. That is why the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), Lideres Campesinas, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), North Bay Jobs with Justice, and Worksafe urge you to support AB 2847, AB 2538 and SB 1044. 

 

By pursuing a comprehensive approach that strengthens safety protections, enhances education and enforcement, and changes the economic incentives for work in dangerous conditions, we can safeguard workers’ lives and their ability to provide for their families. These bills would take immediate and substantial action to protect the health and safety of farmworkers during wildfires in California: 

 

  • AB 2847 (E. Garcia) would create a pilot program to provide a wage replacement safety net for undocumented workers excluded from federal unemployment benefits;
     

  • AB 2538 (Rivas) would create a statewide notification system for wildfire smoke and other public health threats such as severe heat, with a special focus on outdoor workers like farmworkers;  and
     

  • SB 1044 (Durazo) would protect workers who choose not to work during disasters - such as wildfires - from retaliation by their employers.

 

Together, these bills would allow workers access to real-time information about their workplace rights during a disaster, give them the option not to work under dangerous conditions, and provide a financial safety net for their families if they lose wages due to severe wildfire.