Farmworkers work on despite exposure to smoke, ash from Thomas Fire

OXNARD, Calif. - Farmworkers didn't get the day off despite the Thomas Fire ravaging several areas of Ventura County.

A group of farmworkers picked Driscoll's strawberries along Harbor Boulevard in Oxnard on Thursday. They could see and smell the smoke from the fire.

Many of them have children who are out of school because of the Thomas Fire. The farmworkers told KEYT NewsChannel 3 Reporter Tracy Lehr that they were sent home on Wednesday but that wasn't the case Thursday.

Activists from CAUSE said they have tried to deliver protective masks but did not feel welcome in the fields.

The Driscoll's company responded following a tweet from Tracy saying they do not "employ any farmworkers. Rather, the brand works with a large network of independent growers who employ workers, grow and pick Driscoll's strawberries." Their full statement reads:

We along with our and our community of independent growers across Southern California continue to prioritize the safety of all of our workers and their families, including housing those displaced by the wildfires.

Most independent growers immediately ceased operations when the wildfires began and have only resumed operations when air quality improved to acceptable levels and it was deemed legally safe to return to work.  Updated information on air quality is constantly changing and is monitored on the EPA site.

All Driscoll’s-affiliated growers as well as other growers across the produce category are required to take appropriate measures to protect employees from the wildfire smoke, including monitoring air quality conditions, sending employees home as needed and providing appropriate respiratory protection when necessary in accordance with Cal/OSHA requirements. 

Independent growers are also adhering to those recommendations made to farmers across the produce industry by the Ventura County Agricultural Association, which includes providing NIOSH-certified protective face masks and the appropriate training to each worker when air quality conditions are poor. 

Independent growers will continue to monitor the wildfire, along with air quality conditions, to ensure worker safety continues to be prioritized. As well, Driscoll's is working to provide our independent growers with NIOSH-certified protective face masks for all workers to wear regardless of air quality.


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