According to the Idaho Immigrant Resources Alliance, even though Idaho consistently hit triple-digit temperatures this summer, no city in the state has heat ordinances protecting outdoor laborers.
A non-profit group dedicated to enhancing the well-being of disadvantaged communities started a Heat and Smoke Relief Fund to assist Idaho's agricultural employees in safeguarding laborers who are expected to clock in regardless of harmful summer temperatures.
A need for assistance for the immigrant and farmworker populations led to the creation of IIRA during the COVID-19 pandemic.
IIRA announced plans for a third year of mutual aid and direct action on its contribution page. "In response to Idaho's farmworkers working in record-breaking 100+ degree heat the past two years and through thick smoke to feed our nation," the organization wrote.
It's not simply uncomfortable when it's hot outside. Heat-related conditions like heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur when working or having fun outside during persistent heat waves. Approximately 40 people each year pass away from heat-related illnesses, with the majority working outdoors in outdoor industries including agriculture, shipping, and construction, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As summers in the United States continue to get hotter owing to climate change, this number is probably going to go up.
Employers are required by law to provide workers with shade, access to cool beverages, and rest periods when the workplace reaches a specific temperature. Although these regulations have been adopted by other states and localities, Idaho and none of the Treasure Valley's cities have yet to consider them, as requested by BoiseDev.
"Protecting them is crucial"
To purchase supplies including water, coolers, sunscreen, and other necessities for outdoor workers in 2021, IIRA gathered $35,000 from donors.
Last summer, the IIRA raised over $20,000 for supplies, and this summer, it has raised around $3,000 towards its remaining $10,000 goal. The charity is still taking online donations and will start up again in 2019.
In a Facebook post, the non-profit organization also noted that Idaho has little or no laws safeguarding agricultural employees.
The post stated that "farmers put their lives and health at risk working in sweltering heat, air pollution, forest fires, and contaminated water."
The heat and smoke relief fund was established by IIRA, according to Irene Ruiz, the organization's founder, after a farmworker in Oregon died from intense heat.
We must look after those who provide the food for our tables, according to Ruiz. "Farmworkers are the ones who keep our agriculture industry in Idaho going, so protecting them is super important to ensure their safety and well-being."
In the past two years, IIRA has provided services to around five different counties, including Elmore and Washington County, although the majority of its supplies are sent to employees in Canyon County and the surrounding areas of the Treasure Valley.
We want to keep doing this because farmworkers need and want it, according to Ruiz. "We want to help them with those costs,"
Turning to different solutions
According to IIRA, as U.S. temperatures continue to rise, farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die from heat-related illnesses. To protect and regulate workers from extreme heat conditions, cities across the nation, like Dallas and Austin, have passed heat ordinances. To protect workers from the rising temperatures, regulations have also been implemented in Oregon, California, Minnesota, and Washington.
Ruiz plans to start small by advocating for breaks for employees in Idaho and eventually move up the food chain to have heat ordinances passed in Idaho's cities and counties.
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