It’s been more than 50 years since Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta founded the United Farm Workers union. In the ensuing decades, broader activism and increased awareness of the importance of those who grow and harvest our food have resulted in better wages and living conditions for some workers in our state and others, in spite of public indifference. The farmworkers’ story of struggle and of battles won (and those yet to be fought) are told in Food Chains, an unsparing documentary that screened Sunday at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena under the sponsorship of the nonprofit Food Chain Workers Alliance.
The film chronicles the exploitation and brutal poverty — and in some instances, forms of enslavement— that plague American agriculture. Food Chains is directed by Sanjay Rawal, produced by Rawal, Smriti Keshari and Hamilton Fish, narrated by Forest Whitaker, and executive-produced by actress Eva Longoria and activist/filmmaker Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation);
This legislative session brought some exciting victories as well as some deep disappointments. Labor accomplished big things this year that benefit all Californians but when it came to advancing worker protections, many of those bills were vetoed.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 has been the hottest year on record — ever. Millions of Americans suffered through the sweltering heat this summer, many in triple-digit temperatures in the Northeast and Southwest, and in California’s Central Valley.
California farm workers are literally dying from the heat. And their deaths are entirely preventable. Four hundred thousand California farm workers toil in extreme heat, producing 90 percent of the labor for the multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry that helps feed the nation our tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, lettuce and much more. They often lack water and access to shade throughout the long day in the fields.
Since 2005, at least 16 farm workers have died due to heat illness.
In 2008, for example, there was Maria Isabel Jimenez, a 17-year-old girl who was pruning a vineyard for Merced Farm Labor, near Stockton. She worked in the fields for nine hours straight without any water and with no shade.