All the workers were legally working at the location under the H-2A temporary visa, the U.S. Department of Labor said, which means Gonzalez was required by law to pay them fair wages and house them in proper living quarters. The workers, with duties that included cultivating and harvesting potatoes, watermelon, and onions, were required to work 40-hour weeks for $10.95 minimum hourly rate, but that was not the case.
Kristina Espinoza, a labor department investigator, told The Los Angeles Times that Gonzalez was paying the workers $0.13 to $0.70 per bag. She also described the farm as a “makeshift labor camp” that was “dangerous” and “unsanitary.”
The conditions of their “home” sound truly terrifying. The workers apparently showered in stalls that were inside a cargo container. They didn’t have a working sewage system, and had to share one toilet in the trailer or resort to using port-a-potties.
Gonzalez responded to the charges by placing the workers at two hotels. But just last week, an employee told the labor department that Gonzalez charged his own employees for staying at the hotel.
In 2003, the story of Aron Ralston a hiker who became trapped by a boulder in an isolated canyon located in Utah for 127 hours went viral. Well, at least whatever form of viral was popular in the early aughts. Anyway, the story about his experience was ultimately reimagined as a biographical film starring James Franco and directed by Danny Boyle.
Now, a similar story about an Arizona man trapped in a canyon for 24 hours is making the rounds. And we can’t help but wonder if it will also get the Hollywood treatment. Mostly because his story of survival is pretty incredible.
Jacob Velarde was hiking on a solo trail last Tuesday when he fell almost 70 feet into a canyon.
Velarde had been hiking along the Indian Maiden Falls trail when the area he was hiking on fell apart beneath him. The 24-year-old plummeted seven stories below the surface and found himself stranded in the canyon with a broken nose, broken ankle, multiple gashes, as well as severe bruises. He also sustained a skull fracture and orbital fracture.
Velarde laid in the canyon by himself for all of those hours until a family that was also on a hike discovered and rescued him.
Speaking about the incident Velarde told People, “Right now, I just feel blessed. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have been able to survive a fall like that.”
Speaking to NBC affiliate KPNX, Velarde explained that he is an experienced hiker who goes on hikes about once a month. Initially, Velarde had set out to go on a 12-mile overnight trip with his brother but after seeing the rocky and steep terrain of the hike within the first mile of the trail his brother backed out.
Determined to make the hike, Velarde left his brother with the car keys and decided to meet up with him the next day.
The next morning, at around 8 a.m., Velarde said he made a wrong turn in an area of the trail that ultimately caved in when he walked across it.
Speaking with People, Velarde said that didn’t remember much when the fall occurred because “it just happened so fast.”
“Doctors said I’m lucky that I’m not more injured,” Velarde wrote in a post to his Facebook page. Velarde explained that his ability to survive was likely all thanks to his past experiences as a Boy Scout and a set of EMT lessons he took in college.
“It was a bit scary and painful, but it was all about keeping my injuries from getting worse and staying hydrated,” he told People. “With the knowledge, I had from both of those, I knew that I’d be able to take care of myself. I figured that if I was able to survive the fall, I knew I’d survive the rest.”
Velarde underlined that he felt confident that he would be found because his brother was expecting him. “My brother knew where I was and was expecting me the next day by noon,” he said. “He would have called for help to save me.”
Fortunately, Velarde didn’t have to wait for his brother. The family of hikers found him the next morning. “I honestly thought I was imagining them, but I was extremely excited,” Velarde explained. Soon after the family called for help, first responders airlifted Velarde to a nearby hospital.
“I just want to make sure everyone knows the risks and that it’s better just playing it safe on a hike,” Velarde explained of his reason for sharing his story. “I probably won’t be doing any solo hikes soon, but eventually, I will be doing it again. I’ll just be more prepared and safe [next time.]”
Every day, California farmworkers worry that the pandemic plowing through agricultural hubs will catch them and kill them. They also worry that not working will kill them. Now, there is further evidence that their worries are grounded in reality.
A recent survey – the Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) – points out the grim reality this vulnerable community faces as they work to support the nation’s ongoing need for food services.
California’s farmworker community – now considered essential – is being hit hard by the Coronavirus.
California’s agricultural communities have been hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic. From Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border to Fresno County in the Central Valley, these counties are also home to large migrant communities who are considered ‘essential workers’ as they work California’s farms and ranches.
As new details emerge, a grim picture of the virus among farmworkers is emerging. The Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) reinforces the dire warnings that farmworker advocacy organizations made when the coronavirus lockdowns began: The least protected essential workers in the country, toiling under environmental conditions like excessive heat, pollution and dust, are being devastated by the coronavirus, directly and indirectly.
Now, five months into the pandemic, infection rates are spiking. Fresno County is experiencing 435 cases for every 100,000 residents; in Tulare it’s 472 and in Merced it’s 564. The statewide average: 269.
Though county figures say about 31% of overall cases are in the Latino community, some on the front lines estimate that up to 70% of cases from the recent spike have hit in that demographic, in a region where they account for about 42% of the population, according to census figures. Experts agree that official case counts across the state may be low because of testing problems.
And experts agree that fighting Covid-19 in the Central Valley could be an uphill battle. Many farmworkers live in crowded, dorm-like buildings. And thanks to a hostile government, many migrants are fearful of seeking any sort of medical or legal or financial help. Many of the people most at risk do not speak English and are traditionally hard for government to reach. Therefore, packing plants have emerged as coronavirus clusters in parts of the state.
The state is struggling to get a hold on the outbreak but officials have launched a new program they hope will have an impact.
The recent spike in infection rates within the Central Valley has drawn national attention, and now seems to have the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom. His administration is dispatching three of his Coronavirus ‘strike teams’ to the region to help local officials track cases of Covid-19, inspect workplaces, quarantine the sick, and ramp up testing within vulnerable groups.
Each team, consisting of about a dozen experts on health, housing, public outreach, agriculture and other fields, will try to contain an alarming spread through the region. Much of their work will focus on the San Joaquin Valley, where agricultural fields and crowded food-processing plants have become fertile ground for the virus.
“If you asked me today what our biggest area of concern in a state as large as ours, it is indeed the Central Valley,” Newsom said recently in announcing the deployment. “We need to do more for our agricultural and farmworkers.”
In addition to the strike team, the state is allocating $52 million in federal money to help improve testing and contact tracing within the valley. It’s also spending $6 million in private donations to buy food and other basics for low-income Valley residents whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic.
But for many farmworkers, despite the risk, they have little choice but to continue to work.
California’s farmworkers have long been one of the state’s most vulnerable communities. Now that the pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy, migrant farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and are exempt from many of the protective lockdown orders, forcing them to risk their health while at work.
Meanwhile, the collapse of food service (restaurants and institutions) has le to the shutdown of farms across the state and roughly 20% of farm jobs have been cut – that amounts to nearly 100,000 workers. Those who are still working have largely seen their hours cut. So for many, they have little choice but to return to a dangerous job or risk juggling bills and going hungry.
On the job, however, workers lack control of their own safety. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they had received masks from their employers. Even among those who had, they had received them once or a couple of times. (Farmworkers generally wear face coverings to protect themselves from pesticide dust, dirt and the sun. More than 95 percent of those surveyed said they are masked in the fields.)
Social distancing is still an idea, not a reality, for many of those surveyed. In some cases, farmworkers who asked for better protections, such as more distancing in the fields, or hand sanitizer, have faced retaliation. Crew bosses have punished them by cutting their hours or days, advocates said.