You are here

Oregon

As heat rises, who will protect farmworkers?

By Bridget Huber, Nancy Averett and Teresa Cotsirilos - Food & Environment Reporting Network, June 29, 2022

Last June, as a record-breaking heatwave baked Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Sebastian Francisco Perez was moving irrigation lines at a large plant nursery in 104 degree Fahrenheit heat. When he didn’t appear at the end of his shift, his co-workers went looking for him, and found him collapsed between rows of trees. Investigators from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division determined that Perez died of heat-related hyperthermia and dehydration. 

They also found that Perez had not been provided with basic information about how to protect himself from the heat. It wasn’t the farm’s first brush with regulators; it had previously been cited for failing to provide water and toilets to its workers. Later, in a closed conference with Oregon OSHA, an Ernst Nursery & Farms official blamed Perez for his own death, claiming that employees should “be accountable for how they push their bodies.”

This year, in a move to avert similar deaths — and force employers to take responsibility for protecting workers during hot weather — Oregon adopted the most stringent heat protections for outdoor workers in the country. The rule kicks in when temperatures reach 80 degrees F and requires employers to provide cool water, rest breaks and shade, as well as to make plans for how to acclimatize workers to heat, prevent heat illness and seek help in case of an emergency. 

The new standard has been praised by advocates, but industry is already pushing back. On June 15, the day the rule took effect, a coalition of Oregon business groups representing more than 1,000 companies filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the heat standard and another new rule governing workers’ exposure to wildfire smoke, arguing that they are unconstitutional. But the rules stand for now, making Oregon the third state to enact such standards for outdoor workers, after California and Washington. 

In the rest of the country, as climate change drives increasingly brutal heat waves, farmworkers lack protection. How they fare will largely depend on whether their employers voluntarily decide to provide the access to water, shade, and rest breaks that are critical when working in extreme heat. There are currently no nationwide regulations that spell out what employers must do to protect workers from heat and, while efforts to draft a federal rule recently began, it will likely be years before the standards are in place.

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Still Seeking Safe Working Conditions

By Dylan Andersen - Industrial Worker, February 25, 2022

March of 2022 marks the two-year anniversary of workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland unionizing with the Industrial Workers of the World’s Doughnut Workers United. Looking back, Voodoo Doughnut worker and DWU organizer Samantha Bryce recognizes the union’s victories, but also its determination to further improve working conditions.

When DWU was founded, one of the union’s concerns was protecting workers from physical violence. 

“We were robbed by a man with a hatchet,” says Bryce. “We’ve had many individuals come in and smash things up, harass employees and threaten them physically.” 

DWU was able to pressure Voodoo Doughnut to hire security, but management yet refuses to adequately address workers’ safety concerns. 

“Unfortunately, the company has since cut back on the amount of time they employ safety crews,” explains Bryce. “That’s something that we definitely hope to encourage them to improve.”

Another working condition that DWU is preparing to push for improvements to is the temperature and air quality inside of the store during summer months. Last summer, a heat wave struck Portland and management did not meet the union’s demands for safety measures to protect workers from temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, as well as smoke exposure from nearby forest fires.

“We had a couple of people pass out on the shop floor while working at those temperatures,” says Bryce. “We had someone break out in hives across their whole body and people getting nosebleeds. So we did go on strike, and we brought those issues to the company and said, ‘You’re not providing anything.’ Their response was, ‘Well, we gave you wet rags!’ The company then proceeded to fire employees who refused to report to work in 115-degree temperatures, leading to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Voodoo Doughnut management had acted unfairly.”

Farmworkers and Firefighters Are on the Front Lines of Climate-Fueled Catastrophe

By Lin Nelson - Labor Notes, February 14, 2022

Despite the short flurry of support (it seems so long ago) for workers on the front lines, many of the folks who help hold our health and the economy together feel abandoned and used up. The Covid calamity and the escalating climate crisis are creating worker sacrifice zones.

In December, more than 700 workers and allies from across the country made their way (online) to the 10th annual Council on Occupational Safety and Health conference, where they shared stories about the conditions that make going to work a risky affair.

Heat and climate were major threads. We might be in the chill-blast of winter now, but we remember the summer’s heat, from fires in British Columbia to evacuated towns in Oregon to the blistering heat in Washington farmlands.

Outdoor workers were at the center of risk this year. Many were sent into floods and fires—to harvest food, to fight the infernos in the West, or to do dangerous storm cleanup throughout the South and Midwest.

These workers grappled with urgent but often inaccessible health alerts about temperature, air quality, signs of heat stress and fire risk. Many didn’t have the benefit of unions, protective legislation, or functioning public agencies, and faced reprimand or firing if they spoke up about their concerns.

Voodoo Doughnut Reaches Settlement With Staff Over Unfair Labor Practices

By Communications Department - Industrial Workers of the World, December 17, 2021

NLRB Investigation Found Voodoo Doughnuts Illegally Fired Strikers, Surveilled and Retaliated Against Staff During Union Election

Portland, OR --- American Doughnut chain Voodoo Doughnut has reached a settlement with employees, represented by IWW, after a National Labor Relations Board investigation determined the company was guilty of illegally firing striking workers, retaliation, and surveillance during the course of a union certification election.

In June of 2021, twelve workers went on strike due to growing concerns of temperatures inside the Old Town location of Voodoo Doughnut. Workers informed Voodoo Doughnut of the strike, which lasted for two days during Oregon's record breaking heat wave where temperatures rose to, or above, 115 degrees. The goal of the strike was to protect workers', while simultaneously encouraging the company to address the growing concern around these dangerous working conditions. As each striking worker returned following the heat wave, they were terminated on the basis of workplace abandonment.

"DWU's goals have always been to provide mutual aid to all Voodoo Doughnut staff in need, improve work and safety conditions, negotiating with the company towards a living wage, and creating a democratic workplace environment where the workers' voices are heard and valued. These are moral and just goals, and Doughnut Workers United would like to thank our community for all of your continued support! We are all the working class, and together we can build a better future for us all!" said DWU member Mark Medina

Voodoo Employees Wrongly Fired During June Heat Wave, Labor Board Rules

By Sophie Peel - Willamette Week, October 10, 2021

The fired employees will get their jobs back and receive back pay for the three months they were unemployed at the Old Town doughnut shop.

Seven Voodoo Doughnut employees who were fired after walking off the job during the record-breaking June heat wave were wrongly terminated, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Oct. 6.

The board ordered that Voodoo rehire the employees and offer back pay for the more than three months they weren’t employed at the Old Town doughnut shop.

Voodoo Doughnut’s corporate office did not respond to a request for comment.

A majority of the Old Town location’s employees walked out of the shop during the 116-degree heat wave that blanketed Portland in late June. Employees at the time told WW that temperatures inside the shop swelled to even higher than the outside temperature, and that the presence of deep fryers exacerbated the stifling heat.

“Attempts to provide relief, such as Gatorade and wet towels, are insufficient and the current air-conditioning system is not up to the task of dealing with this heat wave,” a Doughnut Workers United representative said at the time. “No person should work in temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. Other establishments have taken the reasonable step of closing during this time while Voodoo Doughnut, with its large southwest-facing windows and deep fryers, has not.”

After walking out, seven employees were fired on the allegation of workplace abandonment.

The National Labor Relations Board also deemed that the company partook in inappropriate conduct by surveying its employees’ support for a union drive.

Food-service workers are suffering from extreme heat; Few rules exist to protect them

By Matthew Sedacca - The Counter, September 6, 2021

With record-breaking temperatures blanketing the country and no federal heat standard in place, workers find they have no choice but to walk out.

As a heat dome blanketed Portland, Oregon in late June, workers at Voodoo Doughnut’s Old Town location found themselves crumbling in their store. Even with air-conditioning in the shop, ambient thermometers brought in by staff recorded interior temperatures upward of 96 degrees. Workers were breaking out in heat hives and doubling over from nausea. The company’s iconic Bacon Maple Bar doughnuts, with their frosting unable to set due to the heat, literally melted into soggy brown mush.

The high-90 temperatures in the Old Town location were already a drastic surge from the more routine ambient summer heat, which was estimated to be around 80 degrees in the store, even with the fryers running all day. But on June 27, when temperature highs in Portland would eventually reach a record-breaking 112 degrees, it reached more than 100 degrees inside Voodoo Doughnut. Workers went to management and suggested that they close the shop early for their safety. After their demand was waved off, a group of employees walked out and went on strike through Monday, when the city’s temperatures soared even further to 115 degrees

“We would rather walk out on strike than to see a coworker collapse and hurt themselves or suffer heat stroke or worst case scenario, you collapse while you’re over a fryer,” said Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Doughnut employee in Portland, who participated in a strike with her colleagues over workplace safety in June. “We don’t want someone to get hurt before the company takes action.”

Heat Is Killing Workers In The U.S.; And There Are No Federal Rules To Protect Them

By Julia Shipley, et. al. - NPR, August 17, 2021

As the temperature in Grand Island, Neb., soared to 91 degrees that July day in 2018, two dozen farmworkers tunneled for nine hours into a thicket of cornstalks, snapping off tassels while they crossed a sunbaked field that spanned 206 acres — the equivalent of 156 football fields.

When they emerged at the end of the day to board a bus that would transport them to a nearby motel to sleep, one of the workers, Cruz Urias Beltran, didn't make it back. Searchers found the 52-year-old farmworker's body 20 hours later amid the corn husks, "as if he'd simply collapsed," recalled a funeral home employee. An empty water bottle was stuffed in his jeans pocket. An autopsy report confirmed that Beltran died from heatstroke. It was his third day on the job.

Beltran is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, the investigative reporting unit of Columbia Journalism School. The count includes people toiling in essential yet often invisible jobs in 37 states across the country: farm laborers in California, construction and trash-collection workers in Texas and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. An analysis of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.

CJI and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records and police reports, and interviewed victims' families, former and current officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers, employers, workers' advocates, lawyers and experts.

CJI and NPR also analyzed two federal data sets on worker heat deaths: one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the other from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are divisions within the U.S. Labor Department.

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Hold National Day of Action

By Shawn Kinnaman - Industrial Worker, August 11, 2021

Our changing climate is increasingly becoming a workplace issue. because these workers engaged in strike action to protest being forced to work in the extreme heat which hit the Pacific Northwest in Summer of 2021, as this article details:

Workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland held a national day of action on July 29 to protest against the allegedly illegal firing of staff and to demand better working conditions. The workers, unionized as Doughnut Workers United with the Industrial Workers of the World, were supported by IWW branches in Portland, Eugene, Austin, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles, who organized actions outside of local outlets of the Portland-based doughnut chain.

The workplace organizing campaign at Voodoo Doughnut goes back several years. Workers tell Mark Medina, an organizer with the Portland IWW who is supporting the campaign, that they earn minimum wage, receive little respect from management, and feel they are at all times close to being demoted or let go altogether. They have also complained of being harassed and even assaulted when leaving the store. During one robbery, an assailant jumped over the counter and threatened staff with a hatchet. Despite the danger, management refused to hire security until pressured to do so by the union.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further deteriorated working conditions at Voodoo Doughnut. Forty workers were initially laid off, with only three being reinstated. Workers allege that management chose to rehire the minimum number of workers necessary for the company to qualify for pandemic-related relief funds from the federal government and that pro-union workers were intentionally excluded. Workers have also had to procure their own personal protective equipment, which management inexplicably asked them to discard, promising replacements but never delivering.

More recently, workers at Voodoo Doughnut were forced to contend with a heatwave that swept through the region from late June to mid July. Management refused workers’ request to close the shop due to inadequate climate control, forcing them to stage a two walk-out involving nearly the entire staff.

Hoping to address these grievances, Voodoo Doughnut workers organized the recent national day of action across six US cities. Workers have asked supporters to amplify this effort across social media and to contribute to a strike and hardship fund organized by the union. Together, Medina believes that workers and their supporters can show management that the union means business.

“We outnumber them,” he says.

Are you interested in organizing a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Billionaires Can Have the Cosmos—We Only Want the Earth

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, July 15, 2021

Fleeing is what the rich do best. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fled Texas last winter, abandoning millions to freezing temperatures. But some have tired of the Earth altogether.

Billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are fleeing to space on rockets with stratospheric price tags.

Branson was the first to venture forth July 11, in a gambit to launch a commercial space tourism industry—as if we didn’t have enough trouble with the carbon emissions from excess tourism.

That’s what it means to be ultra-rich—to squander oodles of untaxed cash and rake in public subsidies on boyhood fantasies of “space hotels, amusement parks, yachts, and colonies,” as Bezos put it in high school.

But the billionaires playing space cowboys aren’t like the rest of us. They’re on the other side of the fault line of an accelerating climate catastrophe caused by greenhouse emissions.

Workers who plow fields, erect scaffolding, haul garbage, lay track, and stuff mail are not going to escape onboard a winged rocket. We are going to have to fight to survive on Earth.

For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death

By Liza Gross - Inside Climate News, July 9, 2021

Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.

People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury. 

No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38. 

If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.

The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.