Monday, August 7, 2017

H-2A Guest Worker From Mexico Died From Heat Stroke After Being Forced To Work In Hot Conditions At Sarbanand Farms

An estimated 80 H-2A guest workers from different parts of Mexico are out of a job for complaining of unfair working conditions and being forced to work on hot days in temperatures over 100 degrees even when sick due to the heat.

By H. Nelson Goodson
Hispanic News Network U.S.A.

August 7, 2017

Sumas, Washington - On Sunday, Familias Unidas por la Justicia and Xolotl Edgar FranX posted on Facebook several videos showing H-2A guest workers from Mexico in dilemma and seeking help from multiple non-profit organizations after being dismissed from the Sarbanand Farms. The owner and operators of the Sarbanand Farms, where blueberries are picked dismissed the H-2A workers simply for complaining about the unsafe working conditions at the farms, after Ernesto Silva Ibarra, 28, a guest worker became sick about four days ago working in the field in hot temperatures. Ibarra was given some medical attention, but was later forced to go back to work and collapsed from a heat stroke and was taken to Harborview Medical Center where he went into coma, was in life supports, but died from brain damage, according to some of the workers. An H-2A worker contacted Ramon Torres from Familias Unidas por la Justicia who began to organize fellow farmworker rights activists to help the guest workers in need.
Torres confirmed that four other H-2A guest workers are in the hospital as well and that one side of their bodies is paralyzed and once released from the hospital, they would need medical care and medicine.
Ibarra's death was confirmed by the King County Medical Examiner's office on Monday.
The H-2A workers were given about an hour to vacate the cabins where they stayed. An encampment was set nearby by the Community to Community Development to temporarily provide shelter, tents, portable bathrooms and food for the H-2A workers who have been threatened for deportation. Apparently a private California contractor, Nidia Pérez who works for Munger Brothers LLC managed to transfer most of the guest workers to Sumas from a California farm associated with Munger farms when their visas had expired (including work permits) and had been working in Sumas at the Sarbanand Farms for about a month without valid visas, according to the H-2A guest workers. They were given work contracts in English only by the contractor and were promised that they would get the contracts in Spanish, but they haven't gotten the translated contracts, according to the H-2A guest workers.
Edgar Frank posted on his Facebook account, "H2A workers from Mexico got fired today after they found out that one of their compañeros, who had been telling the company for 4 days that he was not feeling well, is now at Harborview Hospital in Seattle and in a coma. They refused to work because they wanted to improve the overall safety of the farm by having onsite medical attention, shaded areas, and food. After they were fired the company told them they had one hour to leave the property, so they packed their suitcases and backpacks and walked for miles until they found a friendly family to help them. They worked for Sarbanand Farms in Sumas..."
Community to Community Development (C2C) posted on their FB account that "on Saturday, August 5, 2017, C2C marches with H2a workers from Sarabanan Farms in Sumas WA to the company's offices to protest the unsafe working conditions that caused the collapse of their 28 yr old co-worker that is now on life support at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. The workers have been picking blueberries under harsh production standards in high heat and smoke from the fires in BC.  They have been complaining for days of health issues; including their co-worker who finally collapsed in the blueberry field. Only then did company management act."
Other groups also helping the H-2A guest workers are WWU Students for Farmworkers Justice and Old School Boycott Committee.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Employment is of a seasonal nature where it is tied to a certain time of year by an event or pattern, such as a short annual growing cycle, and requires labor levels above what is necessary for ongoing operations. Employment is of a temporary nature when the employer's need to fill the position with a temporary worker will, except in extraordinary circumstances, last no longer than 1 year."

Video of H-2A guest workers speaking in Spanish about what happened

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