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Labor rights activists voice their concerns over farmworker safety

SALINAS, Calif. (KION-TV) -- Farmworker safety has become a major concern for labor rights activists who are urging legislators to make moves to protect workers.

A caravan of activists and legislators are visiting farmworkers in Salinas this week to highlight these concerns, ranging from the pandemic to smoke coming from wildfires.

Organizers say the effort is part of the COVID-19 Workplace Outreach Project (CWOP) to educate workers and employers on COVID-19 related worker protections and employer obligations.

Estela Martinez has been working in the strawberry fields for more than ten years and she says many farmworkers are not informed. 

“Like now during covid with the eighty hours of sick leave,” she said.  “Unfortunately farmworkers aren't always told what their rights are and sometimes people can't work like when they go get the vaccine. They feel bad, and yet they show up for work like that because they don't know they have those hours. "

There's a sense of distrust in the government among laborers because of problems at work and in the community, she said. This caravan is meant to educate farmworkers about their rights and to restore trust. 

They’re informing workers about the 80 hours of paid sick leave available, as well as information about having the right to water and shade in hot weather.

"When the pandemic hit, and we established additional protections, supplemental paid sick leave, workers were not coming forward and exercising those rights,” said Garcia-Brower. “So we knew we had to do more than just say, here's your right now exercise it."

In a statement to KION, the Monterey Farm Bureau wrote in part: “Monterey County Agricultural employers follow all the workplace rules put forward by multiple state agencies, including notification of employee rights to paid time off for COVID exposures and infections."

The Labor Commissioner also said it's important for workers to know that their employers cannot threaten them because of their immigration status.

Workers are encouraged to contact the labor commissioner's office at 833-526-4636 to report if any of their rights are abused.

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Victor Guzman

Victor Guzman is the managing editor at KION News Channel 5/46.

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Jonathan Sarabia

Jonathan is a multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.

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