As part of the Climate Desk partnership, this article was originally published by the Guardian and is being reprinted here.
Thousands of farmworkers in the area were forced to stay at home as a series of devastating storms tore through California’s wine country, liquefying fields and turning vineyards into wading pools.
Many of them are still dealing with an economic crisis despite the fact that the power has long since been restored and the roads have reopened.
Isidro Rodriguez lost half of his monthly income, or $1,100, as a result of the storms. In the estate vineyard where he worked, it had been too windy and rainy for over two weeks to securely prune the pinot noir grapes. Even so, he took a chance on the roads to travel there in between storms, just in case. He claimed that the storms were ugly. We still had to figure out a way to live.
The 43-year-old single father had to use all of his resources to pay the rent, but he was still able to provide for his two children by using food from the food bank. When his 12-year-old son recently joined the school basketball team, dad had to break the news to him that they could no longer afford the sneakers for him.
My kids definitely understand, which makes it heartbreaking at times, he said. Disasters will happen to us farmworkers.
Rodriguez, 43, has seen periodic work cancellations recently because of summer and fall wildfires, winter storms, and summer and fall high heat waves. For the first time ever, he might be receiving payment right now.
Low-income individuals in Sonoma County now have access to disaster assistance funding for missed wages and storm-related property damage thanks to a new initiative. According to county officials, about 1,100 people have applied for the subsidies. The majority of them are farm workers, and this month, they will all receive one-time payments totaling between $250 and $800.
Noncitizen Farmworkers Don T Qualify for Most State or Federal Emergency Assistance Programs.
The trial program was unprecedented, and Rodriguez and other vineyard employees fought valiantly for something similar for years before finally winning it. Yet, workers claim that it is far from enough, particularly as the climate crisis brings more severe storms, fires, and heat waves.
There are support programs for workers whose capacity to work is dependent on the vagaries of nature, but none of the state or federal programs cover property loss brought on by natural disasters.
Furthermore, only 6% of California’s farmworkers are undocumented, meaning they are ineligible for most state or federal emergency relief programs. Around 59 percent of California’s farmworkers are noncitizens.
And yet, about half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts are grown and harvested by California’s farmworkers. They produce wine worth $46 billion annually from the 6 million tonnes of grapes they harvest.
A farm worker and campaigner with North Bay Jobs With Justice, Anayeli Guzman, emphasized that we need the entire nation to understand how significant we are. then join the fight for us.
Sonoma county, located just north of San Francisco Bay, is renowned across the world for its winemaking. Here, more than 60 different grape varieties flourish in a variety of microclimates. The area has recently gained a reputation for having unpredictable weather.
Vineyards were submerged and millions of dollars in damage resulted from the Russian River’s breach in Sonoma in 2017. During that year, the 5,600-home Tubbs fire ravaged the area, killed 22 people, and scorched the landscape.
According to Lynda Hopkins, a supervisor for Sonoma County, that year marked the beginning of what felt like a period of climatic calamity. Since then, we’ve alternated between fires and floods.
Hopkins proposed a $2 million community disaster emergency needs fund last year, partially based on the UndocuFund established by neighborhood nonprofit organizations to aid immigrants and undocumented Sonoma locals in the wake of the 2017 fires.
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I Worked the Fields when The Sky Was Red and Dark with Fires when It Seemed Like the World Was Ending.
The county first made the cash accessible in January, setting aside $300,000 initially, then $600,000, and finally $1 million as demand increased. Hopkins said she had anticipated that the money would mostly assist families who had suffered property damage or lost their groceries as a result of power disruptions.
She claimed that most of the folks who showed there were truly jobless and dreadfully anxious about the prospect of being unable to pay their rent.
Even before the early January storms, Mar a Reyes and her family were having difficulty. The second-smallest crop of wine grapes in decades was produced this year as a result of a severe frost last winter, which was followed by months of drought and intense heat.
Less work and lower compensation have resulted for Reyes and two of her adult children who also work in vineyards. She drove to the field a couple of times during the storms at her supervisor’s request, only to discover that everyone had been sent home because the rain had been too heavy. She said that the money we spent on gas was also squandered. Not to add the $50 she spent on rain boots so she could work outside.
Supplies at the nearby food banks were running low. She had nothing to offer when her younger children came home from school hungry. Ordinarily, she would take up extra housekeeping or gardening labor, but few firms were recruiting due to power outages and road restrictions. The nearby job center was overflowing.
Both Reyes, 56, and her daughter, 18, who works in vineyards, submitted applications for the county’s emergency needs fund. They had to travel up to the relief center twice and stand in line for hours. They are still awaiting word on the potential financial award.
She remarked, “I worked the fields while the sky was crimson and black with fires.” when everything appeared to be ending. She came dangerously close to passing out while driving home from work during the heat wave last summer. Then came this.
Reyes has been fighting for bigger, more systemic changes at vineyards as a longtime labor organizer and advocate with North Bay Jobs With Justice. These changes include extra hazard pay for hours worked in hazardous weather, disaster insurance, and multilingual safety training, including in the Indigenous languages that many workers from Mexico speak.
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We are utterly unprepared for the increased likelihood of megafloods, mega-fires, and droughts in California as a result of global warming, according to Michael M. ndez, an assistant professor of environmental planning and policy at the University of California, Irvine. Farmworkers are frequently displaced and injured during natural disasters and severe weather conditions.
Some local and state officials are starting to pay attention to the worsening climate crisis. The first state to create an unemployment compensation fund for undocumented workers was Colorado, which did so last week.
Several legislators in California have been promoting a similar approach. A bill to establish an excluded workers program that would pay undocumented unemployed employees $300 per week for each week of unemployment, up to 20 weeks, was submitted earlier this year by a group of Los Angeles legislators.
The program would effectively take what Sonoma County has done and scale it up, which would help keep California’s most economically insecure households from going bankrupt.
But, it’s uncertain whether it will pass into law. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, vetoed a bill similar to this one last year that would have given unauthorized employees jobless compensation. Due to financial restrictions, he also canceled a $20 million trial program that had offered $1,000 monthly cash incentives to farmworkers affected by the drought.
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To yet, California’s 2020 pandemic relief programs, which offered one-time payments of up to $1,000 for illegal workers and laborers, have come the closest to unemployment insurance. According to Mendez, the program in Sonoma County is quite exceptional in this state. It acknowledges the value of these employees to the county.
According to officials, the county is currently talking about how to allocate money in the future more promptly and efficiently.
The area reverted to its bucolic norm in the weeks following the storms. Down calm waterways and across hillsides, endless rows of gangly vines sweep. Everything has returned to normal, Rodriguez claimed. Prior to the start of fire season, he hopes to rebuild his savings. There is a great deal of ambiguity.