UPDATE 8/29/2016 5:15 PM:
Farm workers are considered the most vulnerable people in our community when it comes to pesticides.
"Their work takes them to the field,” Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen said. “They're closest to pesticide applications every day that they work in the fields."
On Monday, the Monterey County Agricultural Commission, a Farmworker Advisory Committee (created with the help of the Center for Community Advocacy) and a handful of local ag giants announced a historic initiative to give field workers more protections against pesticides. The companies participating are Tanimura & Antle, SeaMist Farms, Bayview Farms, Scheid Vineyards and Costa Family Farms.
One of the safeguards include better signage.
Before, pesticide warning signs were posted, but didn’t say much. Under the newly announced program, a warning sign with a red flag will have the date and time posted that the law allows workers to safely re-enter the field. The sign can only be taken down by the grower or a grower’s representative.
"In Monterey County, it's estimated that there are over 50,000 applications every year that require posting,” Laurtizen said. “So it makes sense that when the farm workers met with us, we talked about the concerns that they raised about potential conflicts in the field about posting."
The hope is to clear up any confusion for farm workers like Maria Elena Andrade. She’s a mayordomo, a foreman who oversees operations.
"These measures are a lot of help because the old signs were really small,” Andrade said. “I was one of those people who would eat the strawberries and lettuce without knowing they got sprayed and once I got sick."
That’s not the only safeguard.
Wallet-sized information cards are being handed out to ag workers all over Monterey County. On these cards are phone numbers and information about how to report violations of safety rules.
"The card also advises that they are protected against job retaliation if they report pesticide problems,” Laurtizen said. “And they must be taken to a doctor if they feel ill associated with an exposure."
Tanimura & Antle is one of the companies participating in the program. Mike Antle, the executive vice president, says his customers are asking for accountability.
"This is a wonderful step that we're doing here locally with CCA and the Ag Commissioner's Office to let our customers know that their products are being produced by a very valuable group of folks that we care very much about," Antle said.
At the end of the season, the Ag Commission and Farmworker Advisory Committee will revisit the program and form a plan from there.
"What I treasure the most is this is one more way of letting the community know that farm workers can speak for themselves, that farm workers can represent themselves, that farmworkers don't need other people to voice their concerns, to voice their dreams and to help them take action," said Juan Uranga, the executive director of CCA.
Farmworkers in Monterey County are going to be better informed about when pesticides are used in the fields.
That's according to Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen, the Farmworker Advisory Committee and the Center for Community Advocacy, which said they worked together to create a local initiative aimed at giving farmworkers more pesticide safety protections.
A pilot program launched Monday calls for warning signs when pesticides are used in the fields and information cards for workers to report violations of safety rules.
"California has the toughest farm pesticide restrictions in the nation, and Monterey County already imposes local rules that further protect farmworkers," Lauritzen said. "But we are going to do even more to communicate our commitment to safety in the fields. Farmworkers are the backbone of Monterey County's $4.8 billion ag industry, and they are entitled to the highest standard of pesticide safety."
Lauritzen said current regulations for posting pesticide warnings do not require a date and time when it is safe for workers to return to the field. The pilot program will include that information on one sign, prominently marked with a red flag, Lauritzen said.
KION's Mariana Hicks will have more on this story at 5 & 6.