They want justice.
They want to be respected.
But mostly, farmworkers want answers and want growers, counties and the state to take action.
United Farm Workers members protested on June 28 outside the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office in southeast Fresno in response to recent pesticides incidents that affected approximately 138 farmworkers in Fresno and Tulare counties.
“We are here to protest the ag commissioner and ensure that growers, the county, the state, knows that they need to take action,” said UFW secretary-treasurer Armando Elenes during the demonstration.
The two pesticides incidents occurred within nine days of each other, with the one of them taking place in Fresno County on June 27.
“We have dozens and dozens of farmworkers that were exposed, contaminated with dangerous pesticides,” Elenes said adding that “we already have one commissioner in Tulare County saying that they are not finding any violations, they are trying to blame it on heat.”
At the Tulare County incident, approximately 63 table grape workers near Dinuba were exposed in a mass poisoning incident and treated by hazmat crews the morning of June 18, with five farmworkers transported to the hospital with nausea and vomiting.
Among those farmworkers affected in Dinuba was Fresno resident Mardonio Solorio, who has worked in the ag industry for some 24 years and was one of the many protesting in Fresno.
Holding a sign that read ‘Yo no fui victima del calor, soy victima de los pesticidas’ (I was not a victim of the heat, I am a victim of pesticides), Solorio, 44, said that during the Dinuba pesticides incident, he was also worried about his 18-year-old daughter Addilene Solorio, who recently got a summer job working in the fields with him.
The June 18 incident in Dinuba followed a week after a Los Banos farmer died after being exposed to an “agricultural-related” chemical according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department and nine others were hospitalized after a hazmat spill on June 13.
Elenes said that as of June 25, the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s office couldn’t find any proof of a violation from the June 18 poisonings.
The Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner couldn’t be reached for comment.
“And now we have another incident where another 75 farmworkers were just contaminated so what is the county, the ag commissioner doing? Because we believe there must be an inherent bias,” Elenes said.
Elenes said the county ag commissioners not only are in charge of representing the agriculture community and promoting agriculture products but are also in charge of investigating pesticides incidents.
“So who are they really representing, what actions are they willing to take,” Elenes asked.
He added that is very concerning to the UFW that in Tulare the commissioner is already saying violations were not found in the June 18 incident that took place in Dinuba. “So what is Fresno County going to do.”
At the June 27 pesticide incident in Fresno County, 75 peach workers were working at Gerawan Farming Corp. near Kerman. Fresno Fire Department’s hazmat team was dispatched, and three workers were sent to the hospital.
A statement from Gerawan Farming dated June 28 said “Gerawan had not been given prior notice of the spraying. Immediate action was taken, and County teams were called to the area to assess, medically evaluate and take remedial action to maintain the continued safety and well-being of our workers.”
According to the statement from Gerawan Farming, a neighboring grower was spraying their fields in the area of West Central and South Goldenrod Avenues and that there was a possibility that some spray drifted to orchards at nearby Gerawan Farming, where employees were working.
“We have dozens and dozens of farmworkers that have been contaminated in the last two weeks, so we are here to send the message that more needs to be done,” Elenes said.
Even though Fresno Ag Commissioner Melissa Cregan was not at her office when the pretest of June 28 took place, in a phone interview Cregan said the agriculture commissioners through out California are giving the authority and responsibility to investigate all incidents about pesticides.
In response to the claims by UFW about the “inherent bias”, Cregan said “they feel is a conflict of interest and that somehow the safety of people is not the interest of our farming community. I don’t agree with that. Public safety is in everybody interest.”
Cregan said she understand their concerns.
Depending of the complexity of the investigation, Cregan said their finding might take time and depending of their finding they might refer the case to the district attorney’s office to review the case and see if they want to file a civil or criminal case action.
Cregan said the incident in Fresno County at Gerawan Farming could have been avoided if farmers talk to each other.
“It’s harvest season. This is the time we would likely see more work on the fields right now. The likelihood increases,” Cregan said. “A lot comes down to advocating to the farming community for more communication with their neighbors, to tell a neighbor when they are spraying any materials.”
Cregan said there is the perception that neighbor notification is require, but only applies to a handful of cases and the incident on June 27 was not one of those cases where it was required.
She said her office is advocating for growers to talk to their neighbors.