Sonoma County farmworker advocates to rally for emergency safeguards
A local nonprofit is urging the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to include farmworker protections in the county’s pending evacuation zone access policy, which would determine when agricultural workers are given access to farmland during wildfires and other types of emergencies.
The nonprofit spearheading that campaign, North Bay Jobs with Justice, will make its case for the inclusion of safeguards benefiting farmworkers during an event Monday evening in front of the County of Sonoma Administration Building.
The protections the group seeks include hazard pay, disaster insurance — which would help workers who lose out on wages as a result of an emergency — and language justice.
The latter urges government agencies to produce and distribute emergency safety information in the primary languages, including indigenous ones, spoken by some of this region’s local farmworkers.
“The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors still needs to sit down and include workers in this process,” said Davida Sotelo Escobedo, a North Bay Jobs with Justice spokesperson. “Monday is going to be the time where workers are going to be sharing their experiences of putting their bodies on the front lines of the grape harvest.”
The event, “Voices From the Frontlines,” begins at 5 p.m. outside the county’s offices, 575 Administration Drive, in Santa Rosa. It will include a petition drive that seeks the county supervisors’ pledge to include the proposed safeguards in a formal policy by June 1.
North Bay Jobs with Justice has been working to enact a series of protections for local farmworkers since last year, in the wake of back-to-back years of wildfires and other natural emergencies.
The group initially approached members of the wine industry directly, and also included two other demand to its requests: establishing community safety observers to monitor whether employers are meeting state health and safety regulations; and lastly, that workers have access to clean water and bathrooms.
The nonprofit, which strives to achieve economic and racial justice for workers, said its overarching list of demands was developed from in-depth surveys of farmworkers, who were asked about their experiences.
None of the roughly 100 companies in the wine industry that were asked to meet the nonprofits’ demands have formally done so, Sotelo Escobedo said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that there hasn’t been some level of response from representatives of the county’s wineries and vineyards.
The Sonoma County Winegrowers, in response to the efforts of North Bay Jobs with Justice, has pointed to a survey of 965 full-time county vineyard workers that found many workers are unfamiliar with North Bay Jobs with Justice. As a result, the winegrowers group contends, the nonprofit cannot represent the needs of area vineyard workers.
And more recently, amid farmworker advocates’ continued push for worker safeguards, Sonoma Wine Industry for Safe Employees, a new coalition that advocates on behalf of local wineries and vineyard operators, has stepped into the foreground.
Sonoma County Winegrowers President Karissa Kruse said this is because the Sonoma County Winegrowers is a marketing commission under the state’s Food and Agriculture Department and is barred from engaging in political debates.
In response to North Bay Jobs with Justice’s initial push for support, every county supervisor said they would be interested in having a board discussion about farmworkers’ safety.
On Feb. 1, the board created an ad hoc committee tasked with helping to craft an evacuation zone access policy that takes into consideration the needs and safety of both farmers and their employees.
The committee will provide the Board of Supervisors an update on its work on May 3 and a policy proposal could come as early as June, county spokesman Daniel Virkstis said. The group will also hold a meeting to collect input from members of the public about the policy sometime in May, he added.
So far, about 80 businesses and organizations have signed North Bay Jobs with Justice’s petition urging the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to include the three demands in the local policy, according to the nonprofit.
They include several local farms, such as Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg and Sebastopol’s Chiatri de Laguna Farm. The Santa Rosa NAACP, Corazon Healdsburg and the local United Healthcare Workers West health workers’ union have also signed the request.
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nashellytweets.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat
Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.
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