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.
As we enter our third year in the grips of COVID-19, we cannot forget how early in the pandemic our society recognized the sacrifice of frontline workers, like farmworkers, for putting their lives on the line. If we are truly to honor their essential role in our state’s economy and putting food on families’ tables, then we cannot ignore the dire threat they face during what has become nearly a year-round wildfire “season” in California. As California works toward resilience in the face of climate change, we must listen to the knowledge and priorities of the people who work the land in our state.
Maricela Morales, Executive Director
Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)
Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Project Director
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)
A. Irene de Barraicua, Director of Operations & Communications
Vanessa Teran, Policy Director
Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
Max Bell Alper, Executive Director
North Bay Jobs with Justice
Karin Umfrey, Staff Attorney