North American heat wave pushes farm workers to work nights: “even like that, it’s horrible”

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The historic heat wave that has hit North America since June 26 has particularly affected farm workers: often lacking shady places to shelter, pickers must work at night to avoid the heat wave, as videos show on social networks. The heat poses additional risks to these workers who already work in precarious conditions, warns the union.

The blueberry and cherry harvest season is in full swing in the Northwestern United States. To prevent the unusual heat does not damage the berries, some producers have accelerated the pace harvests to pick the fruits as quickly as possible.

In heat that can reach as high as 42 ° C, farm workers in Washington state, in the northwestern United States, now start their workday at 3 a.m. to avoid the heatwave.

In a video posted on Facebook by the farm workers union United Farm Workers on July 3, pickers with headlamps can be seen bustling through the blueberry bushes while it is still pitch dark. “The heat is dangerous, but working in the dark is also”, pleads the organization on Facebook, explaining that “the cultivators must constantly move their ladders to reach the fruits and tractors circulate in the orchards to move the baskets”. On June 26, a farm worker from Guatemala is dead in Oregon.


In the caption, we can read that Lorena, one of the workers seen in the video, uploaded this video at 3 a.m.

“One of the very hot days, a minor almost passed out.”

Lorena, 44, is a farm worker near Sunnyside, Washington. She has filmed several videos showing how blueberry pickers have had to adapt to the heat wave over the past few days:

I really enjoy my job, but this has been a very hot year. So that we do not have to experience such heat, the bosses decided that we would start at 3 a.m. and stop at 11 a.m. or noon. But even so, the heat is horrible.

We pick blueberries, and some parents bring their minor children. One of the hot days, a minor almost passed out.


This video filmed by Lorena was posted on the United Farm Workers Facebook page on July 1.

The United Farm Workers union is also concerned about the lack of protections for workers in the heat. Volunteers also mobilized to distribute bottles of cold water to workers in the orchards.


Photos from one of the daily water distributions organized by Union Farm Workers were posted on Facebook on June 28.

The constraints linked to the heat add to the already precarious working conditions: paid by the quantity of fruit harvested, agricultural workers tend to work long hours without taking a break to drink and rest. Victoria Ruddy, United Farm Workers’ Pacific Northwest Regional Director, told NBC News that some cherry pickers were paid only $ 3.50 (2.95 euros) per basket of 25 to 30 pounds (11 to 13 kg) of fruit.

A large part of these workers are migrants from Central America or South America. Almost half are in an irregular situation and risk deportation. It is not uncommon for children from 12 years old and older people work on farms.

>>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: “We have lost everything”: in Canada, the village of Lytton is set ablaze under 49.6 ° C and the inhabitants flee

James Michael, Vice-President of the Northwest Cherry Growers and Washington State Fruit Commission Growers Association, explained to Modern Farmer that most orchards used automatic sprinklers to lower the temperature around the trees.

The heat wave affecting North America is due to a phenomenon of heat dome, resulting from climate change. A record temperature was reached with 49.5 ° C recorded in Vancouver, Canada, on June 30. The heat wave made several hundred dead in the Northwestern United States and Canada.

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