After weeks of rain and snow have been dumped on the West Coast, many farm workers are wondering when they might see a paycheck again. For some of them, it may not be soon.
According to Antonio De Loera, Director of Communications for United Farm Workers, a farm workers union, the storms in our area have had a significant impact. “It means lost work, in turn lost wages for workers,” he told KTLA sister station KRON4.
Flooded fields have forced work to stop, meaning lost wages for many – and there could be more losses to come. Depending on how quickly the waters can recede, some crops may not be worth harvesting. It may also take quite some time for the ground to dry out enough to replant new seeds.
The irony of agricultural workers not being able to put food on the table is not lost on De Loera. “We have this situation again where people who are feeding the country too often can’t feed their families,” he said.
“Farm workers tend to live paycheck to paycheck despite working these incredibly hard jobs,” De Loera said. Due to the low wages paid to farm workers, they often don’t have the same ability to withstand missed paychecks as those with higher incomes do.
Farm workers also work without labor protections that many have come to know as standard, including benefits like health insurance, paid time off and sick pay. Farm workers were not guaranteed regular overtime pay — though many often work 10-12 hour shifts — until January of 2022.
Some farm workers have been lucky enough to still get some few hours in despite the storms. However, harvesting in the rain can be challenging.
Working in the rain is colder and slippery. There’s lots of mud. It’s physically demanding work, bending over, using sharp tools. Agriculture is already one of the most dangerous fields in the country, this makes it tougher.Antonio De Loera, Director of Communications of the United Farm Workers
Some of the communities that farm workers live in are facing another struggle after the storms: homes damaged by flooding. De Loera said the communities he is in touch with are still assessing the damages, but he anticipates they will be big.
“The financial hardship will take a lot longer to recede than the floodwaters will,” De Loera said. Because many farm workers are also undocumented, they likely won’t qualify for the FEMA aid that many Californians will. However, according to FEMA documents, some undocumented immigrants can still receive aid if their children qualify.
De Loera said climate change has been impacting farm workers heavily, even in dry years, as they continue working through wildfire smoke or extreme heat. “Farm workers are on the front line of every extreme weather event. As climate change worsens, that will only grow to be more true,” he said.
When asked what the community can do to support farm workers after the storms, De Loera didn’t mince words: “When there is a disaster in California, it’s farm workers and poor Latino communities that are impacted the most…In general, it’s about making sure that when the federal monies come in, that the unincorporated towns with lots of Latino people are not left behind.”