The crisis of the continuous warming of the Earth is having an increasingly detrimental effect on farmworkers across the country, including in Florida, advocates told Congress recently.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodríguez testified along with climate control experts before the House Select Committee on how the climate crisis’ excessive heat is a big health risk.
“While many of us work in climate-controlled environments, farmworkers across the nation toil under the scorching sun and during extreme weather events, to cultivate and harvest the food that reaches our tables,” Rodríguez said, adding that he is seeking congressional approval for legislation that would expand standards already set in California for agricultural workers nationwide. “The danger farmworkers face due to heat exposure will only increase due to climate change.”
California set regulations in 2005 for farmworkers. Among them: requiring employers to provide shade at 80 degrees, increased breaks and closer monitoring at 95 degrees. The state also made mandatory training to identify heat-related illnesses.
There are approximately 3 million farmworkers in the United States, including 100,000 in Florida, and the issue of working in warmer weather is becoming a major concern, Rodríguez said.
“It’s hotter for longer periods of time, and we’re seeing the heat take place, not only in the summertime, but throughout the year now,” he added. “And as a result, it is much more difficult for farmworkers to be able to do their work.”
Rodríguez noted that some of these workers are undocumented and afraid to come forward when they are exposed to less-than-ideal working conditions.
At the Feb. 5 hearing, Rodríguez said he was “very hopeful” that Congress would address the issue of working conditions for farmworkers particularly since employers in California largely backed the 2005 regulations. “The growers in the agricultural industry voluntarily agreed to include additional water, shade and protections training for supervisors and so forth in the legislation itself.”
Committee Chair Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) represents Tampa and surrounding areas in Congress. She said the issue is a growing concern not just for farmworkers, but for anyone who works outdoors, including construction workers. It needs to be addressed immediately, she added.
“[Extreme heat] can be particularly dangerous for farmworkers, the folks who help grow the food that ends up on our dinner tables. Rising temperatures will make sustained work increasingly difficult for millions of workers, with temperatures regularly breaching physiological limits.”