Calif. Farm Workers Fired for Leaving Fields During Wildfire

By John Cadiz Klemack and Yvonne Beltzer
|  Tuesday, May 7, 2013  |  Updated 9:53 AM PDT
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Farm workers in Oxnard said they could not breathe during the height of the Springs Fire. Those who walked off the job during the fire were told not to come back to work, but after the United Farm Workers union stepped in, Crisalida Farm offered to rehire the workers -- all but one of whom rejected the offer. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Oxnard for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 6, 2013.

John Cádiz Klemack

Farm workers in Oxnard said they could not breathe during the height of the Springs Fire. Those who walked off the job during the fire were told not to come back to work, but after the United Farm Workers union stepped in, Crisalida Farm offered to rehire the workers -- all but one of whom rejected the offer. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Oxnard for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 6, 2013.

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Strawberry Workers Fired After Leaving Work Because of Fire

As many as 15 workers in Camarillo's strawberry fields left work Thursday, concerned as the fire neared. Nine workers have now filed complaints because they were fired for not staying on the job. Kathy Vara reports from Camarillo for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 3, 2013.
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More than a dozen farm workers in Southern California were out of a job after walking out of the fields last week, forced indoors because of heavy smoke from a massive wildfire burning nearby.

“Oh, yeah, the smoke was very bad. That’s no doubt about that,” said Lauro Barrajas, of the United Farm Workers.

As the blaze, dubbed the Springs Fire, continued to grow in Camarillo May 2, farm workers 11 miles south in Oxnard said they started to feel the effects of the smoke in the strawberry fields.

The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”

Air quality in the region was at dangerously poor levels and 15 workers at Crisalida Farms decided they could not handle it any longer. They left, even though their foreman warned them they would not have a job when they returned.

When they went back to the fields May 3, the farm fired them.

Barrajas, who is a representative of the UFW, said the workers contacted him for help, even though they were not members of the union.

Union representatives met with the farm’s upper management and applied a union rule.

“No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger,” Barrajas said.

In a statement to Telemundo, the farm representative said the workers left without permission while orders still needed to be filled. The company offered to pay them for the hours they’d worked.

Later, the company settled with the union and offered to rehire all 15 workers. But only one worker returned.

The others took jobs on other farms.

One worker said while it hurts to lose work, one's health is more important.

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