Last week’s shooting that killed seven farm workers in the United States has drawn renewed attention to the hardships faced by farm workers in California, exhausted by low wages and a high cost of living.
The January 23rd shooting occurred in the coastal community of Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of San Francisco in Northern California.
There, a 66-year-old farm worker named Chunli Zhao opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at two mushroom farms where he was employed. First was California Terra Gardens, then Concord Farm. Zhao was later found in his car and taken into custody.
He later said in a detention center interview with San Francisco news station KNTV-TV that he was frustrated by the conditions he encountered on the farm.
Prosecutors also said Zhao’s boss demanded $100 to be paid for repairs after the forklift he was driving collided with a colleague’s bulldozer. was killed in
Since the shootings, state and local officials, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, have visited the area to denounce the conditions on and around the farm. The governor’s office has announced it will begin investigating both workplaces.
At a press conference after visiting the site, Newsom said, “We need to see where these people live and the conditions under which they live in shipping containers. Newsom’s office spokesperson later said: described the situation as “simply deplorable”.
However, local advocacy groups said the situation was not surprising and that low wages often forced workers and their families to live in cramped conditions within communities.
“As we have just seen, some farms end up operating illegal housing units that are in a very dire situation,” said local group Puente on the housing problem around Half Moon Bay. Hyun-Mi Kim, who has been working on it, said. .
“Sometimes three or four families have to share one trailer without clean water or proper heating. Some farm workers sleep in their cars. This is nothing new, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone.”
A local news station reported that some workers actually lived on the grounds of the California Terra Garden farm, and since then construction of new, more permanent housing for the employees has been underway. issued a statement promising to
Although Cho himself did not live on the farm, advocacy groups say employer-supervised housing is another indicator of a relationship favorable to management.
“When one person is in charge of your employment, housing, transportation and immigration status, it puts a lot of power in the hands of your employer,” says a community organization of the group Central Coast United for a Sustainable director Hazel Davalos said. economy (cause). “And that creates a situation ripe for abuse.”
These conditions are exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the state’s farm workers are from vulnerable immigrant communities. Of the seven farmers who died in the Half Moon Bay shooting, five were from China and two were from Mexico.
The coroner’s office identified six of the victims as 73-year-old Zhishen Liu of San Francisco. Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, from Moss Beach, California. Aixiang Zhang, 74, lives in San Francisco. Qizhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay. Half He Moon His Bay Jingzhi Lu, 64 years old. Yetao Bing (43) whose birthplace is unknown. The indictment names a seventh victim, Jose Romero Perez.
Nearly 50% of California’s farm workers are illegal workers, and many are reluctant to speak out about violations of their rights and unfair labor practices.
Agriculture is one of the state’s most important industries and the sector was sold. over $50 billion 2021 production, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.But that year, the median wage for many farm workers was just $14.30 per hour.
“The power of businesses and employers is very strong over workers,” says the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), which works with farmworkers in the community of Oxnard, Southern California. Organizer Ofelia Flores said. “It is very common for them to suffer violations of their rights in the workplace.”
Viviana Guzman, a strawberry picker in Oxnard, who earns about $15.50 an hour, said she struggled to cover expenses such as rent, transportation, groceries, utilities and childcare.
But her earnings have plummeted in recent weeks due to a series of severe storms dubbed “rivers of the atmosphere.” They drenched the state with record rainfall, forcing farm workers to lose their job opportunities due to road closures and flooded fields.
“They have only given us two days of work so far. “I use the money I saved for the season, but when I work, it runs out. [of money]”
At a press conference on January 24, Eamonn Allen, spokesman for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, told reporters that the storm had created additional difficulties for local residents.
“There are floods and people are out of work,” he said.
For strawberry farmer Guzman, like much of California’s farming community, her situation is hopeless. “I really don’t know what to do,” she said, looking to her future.