California strawberry pickers fired for walking off job to flee wildfire
A group of agricultural workers in southern California lost their jobs last week when they took shelter to escape the ash-filled air blowing down on them ahead of one of the wildfires currently blazing in that state. According to NBC Los Angeles, 15 workers went inside to escape the smoke, which was interfering with their ability to breathe. When they returned to work the next day, they were informed that they had been fired.
“The smoke was very bad. There’s no doubt about that,” said Lauro Barrajas, one of the workers, who are represented by the United Farm Workers union.
The wildfire, dubbed the Springs Fire was growing out of control in Camarillo Springs, California on Thursday, May 2. The workers, employees of Crisalida Farms in Oxnard, located 11 miles south of the fire’s center, began to cough and experience lowered visibility as smoke and ash rained down on them.
Even as the air quality in the fields declined, a foreman told the workers that if they walked off the job, they would not have jobs to come back to. When they returned on May 3, they were told that they were fired.
Farm representatives made a statement to Latin TV network Telemundo that the workers had clocked out without permission with orders still to be filled, hence the firing.
Union reps, including Barrajas, met with the farm’s managers and applied a union rule, “No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger.”
Crisalida Farms settled with the union and offered the workers their jobs back, but all but one declined. The others have since taken jobs on other farms where they feel they are safer.
One worker noted that while losing work is hard, losing one’s health is harder.
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