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Tuesday, August 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rally for farmworkers highlights health safety conditions

Farmworkers take to the streets of Quincy, Wash., on Monday to protest harsh working conditions.  (Daisy Zavala/The Spokesman-Review)
Farmworkers take to the streets of Quincy, Wash., on Monday to protest harsh working conditions. (Daisy Zavala/The Spokesman-Review)

QUINCY, Wash. – Jocelyn García, a high school senior familiar with the harsh working conditions of summer field work, marched alongside 30 other people Monday advocating for more farmworker rights.

Like many other children of farmworkers, Garcia has spent some of her summers working in the fields.

She recalls a particularly hot day. It was about 110 degrees, she said. Normally workers are out of the fields when temperatures hit 108, but not that day.

There was a 15-year-old worker who kept losing consciousness and his nose was bleeding. But the workers weren’t allowed to leave, she said as she teared up.

“The only thing we could do was carry him to the shade,” Garcia said.

Most farmworkers are overworked, she said, and employers continuously take advantage of undocumented and temporary workers. Those at Monday evening’s rally said now, with COVID-19 sweeping through the area, many farmworkers and other laborers are living and working in unsafe conditions.

As the crowd gathered, Eduardo Castañeda Diaz told the crowd about his background as the child of immigrant farmworkers and expressed gratitude toward his mother who was present.

“I’ll never forget where I came from,” he said. “Those hands fed me as a child.”

Marchers began walking from a street corner near city hall in this town about 31 miles southeast of Wenatchee as mariachis accompanied playing their instruments. This was the first march in a series of events organized by Castañeda Diaz and Bryan Vazquez.

“Are we gonna let them put profits over people?” Castañeda Diaz shouted over a megaphone as the crowd shouted back a resounding “no.”

Cristobal Aviña who held a flag with the United Farm Workers emblem grabbed the megaphone and shared how he was laid off from a tree- fruit orchard because of “talking back to his employers.”

He shared with the crowd that what he was doing was advocating on behalf of contracted workers who were being cheated out of wages.

Much of Central Washington relies on agriculture and the predominately Latino farmworkers who harvest the crops.

Grant County, which includes Quincy and Moses Lake, reports the highest number of COVID-19 cases in north-central Washington with 1,078 people who have tested positive. There have been nine deaths as of July 24.

Todd Mildon drove from Ellensburg to Quincy to participate in the first of a series of marches in Central Washington for farmworker rights.

His family has been in the region for seven generations and he is now the board president of Central Washington Justice For Our Neighbors.

There have been massive outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat-packing plants and fruit and vegetable processing plants, he said. Still, there has been no enforcement at a federal level to protect these workers.

“We’re risking lives to make money, that’s an evil act,” he said. “We have to prioritize people over profits. That’s a moral imperative.”

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