Latino farmworkers more likely to die from extreme heat
Why it matters: In the U.S., extreme heat kills more people each year than floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, per the National Weather Service. About 700 people die from heat-related illnesses each year.
- For outdoor workers, "increasingly frequent instances of extreme heat would substantially decrease the number of safe workdays per year," writes the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
- On average, a Latino worker is likely to experience around 40 to 45 days with maximum temperatures above 90°F, according to the research from the Adrienne-Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.
- White workers are exposed to high temperatures for approximately 25 to 30 days per year.
Between the lines: Farmworkers are less likely to take breaks during their shifts because they get paid a piece-rate wage — that is, for the number of units they gather, attorneys at the Heit Law Group said.
By the numbers: Approximately 2.4 million farmworkers are in the U.S., 75% are foreign-born, and of those, almost half lack authorized immigration status, according to Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization.
- Farmworkers earn on average $20,000 per year, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey released by the Labor Department.
- The labor of undocumented farmworkers has contributed $9 billion yearly to the fruit and vegetable industry, the National Immigration Forum reports.
- Overall Latinos comprise 32.3% of construction workers and 43.4% of workers in agriculture (including farmworkers), forestry, fishing and hunting, per data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What's happening: The federal government currently does not have any heat-safety standards to protect outdoor workers.
- Instead, the Labor Department puts that responsibility on individual employers. But without an enforced standard, employers do not have any specific guidance on how to address extreme heat, Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist with UCS, told NBC News.
With slow to no actions to reduce global carbon emissions, the number of outdoor workers exposed to temperatures higher than 100°F could quadruple by midcentury, per the UCS.
- Since Latinos comprise a large part of the outdoor working population, they will be "disproportionately exposed" to extreme heat, compared to the general population.
Zoom in: Workers in California — where Latinos represent 90% of farmworkers — will experience 17 more days per year with temperatures that exceed 100°F by midcentury if no climate change action takes place.
What we're watching: Democratic senators introduced the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2021 in March, a bill aimed at ensuring the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace.
- It is named after Asunción Valdivia, a Latino farmworker who died in 2004 of heatstroke after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105°F temperatures.
- Congress has yet to take action on the bill.