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October 26, 2021

Newsom signs bill to protect farmworkers from wildfire smoke

Assembly Bill 73 ensures access to PPE and training during wildfires

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed Assembly Bill 73, Assemblymember Robert Rivas’ Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act, into law on Sept. 27.

California’s wildfire season, combined with heat waves and the Covid-19 pandemic, has helped shine a light on the necessary safety protocols agricultural workers need to remain safe while working in unhealthy air quality conditions.

“Our state is yet again experiencing a catastrophic wildfire season and continues to battle Covid-19. While many of us have had the privilege to work from home, our farmworkers weren’t so lucky — instead, they continue to work the smoky fields to feed the nation and sustain a multi-billion dollar industry,” said Rivas (D-Salinas), vice-chair of the California Legislative Latino Caucus. “I am grateful for the support of my colleagues and Gov. Newsom in getting this legislation secured so we can begin protecting our farmworkers NOW.”

Prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke has been linked to increased rates of chronic heart and respiratory diseases. Without adequate protective equipment, outdoor workers — such as farmworkers — risk lifelong health complications.

Specifically, AB 73 does two things: ensures the state’s stockpile of N95 masks will be available to farmworkers during a wildfire outbreak; and ensures farmworkers access to quality and comprehensible training relating to wildfire smoke, including by using pictograms and appropriately accounting for relevant ethnic and cultural backgrounds and education levels.

“Many of us are privileged to work in air-conditioned offices, safe from the natural elements. Farmworkers do not have that privilege,” said Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), principal co-author of the bill. “They show up to the fields every day to provide fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables to the state, the nation, and the world during wildfire season — even when it is a threat to their health and wellbeing. Providing farmworkers with PPE and wildfire safety education and protection is simply the right thing to do and is long overdue.”

AB 73 was a legislative priority for the California Latino Legislative Caucus and has received widespread, bipartisan support from the Legislature and stakeholders. Now signed by the governor, the bill will go into effect immediately.

“Between heatwaves, wildfires and a global pandemic, California’s farmworkers sacrifice their health and safety every day to keep food on the table for American families,” said Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), chair of the Latino Caucus. “During the ever-intensifying fire season, these farmworkers cannot move their jobs inside and can’t put their work off until the fires are contained. As a result, they are on the front lines doing backbreaking work while exposed to toxic smoke and ash. With AB 73 now signed into law, farmworkers will be able to access the health and safety protections that they need and deserve as essential frontline workers.”

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