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Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

StoryDecember 11, 2017
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In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

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Video squareWeb ExclusiveDec 11, 2017Are Farmworkers & Immigrants Being Left Behind Amid Raging Southern California Wildfires?
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend, the fires scorching 230,000 acres of land, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfire is the fifth largest on record so far in California history, the largest ever recorded in December. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change.

Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact the pickers were asking for the safety equipment.

For more, we go now to Southern California, where we’re joined by two guests. Via Democracy Now! video stream, Lucas Zucker, joining us from Ventura in Southern California, evacuated last week due to the wildfires. He’s policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. By phone, we’re joined by Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

State Assemblymember Limón, can you tell us what you are calling for right now?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER MONIQUE LIMÓN: So, in terms—I mean, we have two areas where we are really focusing on: the fire itself, but also, in terms of the farmworkers, you know, we’ve had the ability to talk to Cal/OSHA, which is our department of employment and safety. We’ve also had the ability to talk with the Growers Association, and that has been particularly useful in making sure that we ensure that all of the farmers have information about how to keep workers safe during these conditions.

This is an emergency situation. And what concerns us is that in both Santa Barbara and Ventura County, not only have we had bad air quality, but the system in place to measure air quality has actually deemed it hazardous in certain parts of these counties. And so, it’s been a very—it’s been very much part of our messaging to our entire community that air quality is so bad that it’s considered hazardous in some areas, bad in others, and that we’ve needed to—we’ve asked that people take care of their health. And so, when you have anyone who is working outside with conditions as the ones we have now—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Lucas Zucker into this in the last 20 seconds. What have you found among the farmworkers? Fifteen seconds before end of show.

LUCAS ZUCKER: Sure, well, we found thousands of farmworkers out in the fields of Ventura County without the protective masks that they need. We’ve been mobilizing folks in the community out to talk to them. But, you know, workers are really faced with this horrific choice of either giving up the income they desperately need in a time like this or be out in conditions that are endangering their health and safety.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to do Part 2, post it at democracynow.org. Thank you so much, State Assemblymember Monique Limón and Lucas Zucker of CAUSE.

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Are Farmworkers & Immigrants Being Left Behind Amid Raging Southern California Wildfires?

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