While many of us seek relief from soaring temperatures in air conditioning, shade, or cool dips in pools, our agricultural workers do not have this luxury. Temperatures in the 90s with high humidity mean a heat index of well over 100 degrees for those working in the fields.
In Mexico, Jose* worked in a quarry breaking down rock, which required him to carry up to 60 pounds of stone to fill a truck bed. Jose remembers his first day working on the Eastern Shore. “I really felt it because of the humidity, and productivity standards harvesting tomatoes are hard even when compared to my work in the quarry.”
Jahir*, who worked in agriculture in Mexico, agreed the productivity standard here is very hard. “When you are harvesting large tomatoes, you have to pick 18-20 buckets in an hour. Each bucket weighs approximately 35 pounds and must be carried to the end of the row to the truck. This means you are picking a bucket every two to three minutes.” He agrees the high heat can result in heat exhaustion, dehydration, or other medical conditions.
Franco* worked as a welder before coming to the U.S. He explains how it works when you want to come to the U.S. on an H-2A visa. “Contractors from American companies come to Mexico to hire workers. There are thousands of people who want these jobs, and we are thankful if we get one. The contractors guarantee a certain income; however, contracts are complicated and not well explained. They don’t tell us there can be weeks without work because the crops are not ready for harvesting or because there is rain. When we don’t work, we have no income to buy our own food or money to send home. Most of us are here to help support our families. If we get injured while not on the job and cannot work, we have no source of income.”
The Agricultural Workers Advocacy Group (AWAC), a group of concerned citizens working to assist our agricultural workers here on the Eastern Shore, has developed ways for you to help. A GoFundMe page has been set up to meet emergency needs for agricultural workers. The funds will help workers who have a non-workers-comp injury or have experienced retaliation for speaking up. AWAC is also in need of individuals to help provide transportation for workers, teach English as a second language, or advocate for farm workers.
Sharon Parker, of Onancock, is retired from the Eastern Shore Community Services Board and is a volunteer for Dos Santos and the Agricultural Workers Advocacy Council.
*names changed to protect anonymity