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First the coronavirus pandemic and now wildfire smoke: A look at farmworkers’ health

Not a lot has changed for these essential workers during the pandemic and now working under the smoky skies.

LODI, Calif. — Amid the coronavirus pandemic and now wildfires, farmworkers continue to work to help put food on tables all across the country. But are those essential workers being given the proper equipment to stay healthy?

ABC10 arrived at a grape field in Lodi late on Tuesday for farming standards, around noon. Many farmworkers were getting ready to take off for the day.

Around the same time, a check of the air quality showed the index at 151, meaning it was very unhealthy.

For Freddy Munoz and his farm working crew, it was just another day of work.

“No pues temenos que trabajar,” said Munoz.

Munoz says he has to work, he doesn’t have a choice. He must pay his bills. He said they’ve been grape gathering in a Lodi vineyard since before sunrise. ABC10 asked him about wearing an N95 or a regular homemade mask.

“Yo ni le pregunto,” Munoz said.

He says he hasn’t asked his boss for a mask. Even if he is to get one, he finds them hard to work with, especially on warm days.

ABC10 spoke with Juana Gonzalez who said every farmworker is responsible for getting their own mask. She said even before the pandemic many of the farmworkers wore cloth masks or bandanas because of the pesticides.

“Cada persona es responsible,” said Gonzalez

Gonzalez said they are fearful of the coronavirus and now the smoke, but no one from their working crew has gotten sick.

Down the street, ABC10 found Luis Sandoval and his five-man crew. They are all mostly related and are all over 60-years-old. When asked if they get any extra compensation having to work in the middle of a pandemic or outside with all the wildfire smoke, he said they do not.

“No puro minimo," said Sandoval

Everyone in the work crew except Sandoval was wearing an N95 mask thanks to Luis Magana, a Stockton activist who drives around fields giving out masks and other essential items to the farmworkers.

John Aguirre the president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers said farmworkers have rights.

“It is the responsibility under the regulation that a farmer makes a mask available to workers when air quality index hits 151, and there need to be hazard communications. The grower needs to communicate to the worker the risks of smoke and that is required by regulations. Then when the AQI index or the reading hits 500, a mask has to be worn by the farm workers and it has to be properly fit,” Aguirre said.

He says farmers who violate these rules can be penalized with a $25,000 fine per incident.

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