Farmworker who was victim of the heat honored
PCUN, Oregon's farmworker union, held vigils on Saturday, July 3, in St. Paul, Portland and Hermiston to honor Sebastian Francisco Perez, a farmworker and family man who died while working in excessive heat in St. Paul on June 26.
Perez, 38, died on June 26, one of the hottest days of the heat wave, while working at Ernst Nursery and Farms in St. Paul. The workers had been moving irrigation lines when they noticed Perez wasn't there and found him. They called his nephew, Pedro Lucas, who arrived to find his uncle unconscious and dying.
Perez was remembered as a husband, brother, and son from Guatemala. His wife and mother, who are still in Guatemala, talked to the crowd at the Portland vigil by phone.
"They are sad. We are devastated," said Patti Verduzco, the Communications Director for PCUN, Oregon's farmworker union. "We can't do anything to bring him back but what we can do is keep fighting."
During the vigils, PCUN and partner organizations discussed the policies and regulations that are needed to prevent future tragedies, as farmworkers face harsh conditions due to climate change. After a reading of the Farmworkers Prayer, community leaders called on state leaders and the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration to change regulations and protect farmworkers.
"Sebastian Francisco Perez's death was absolutely preventable," PCUN Executive Director Reyna Lopez said. "It shouldn't have taken a loss of precious life for Oregon leaders to take action, but that is what's happening.
"We are urgently working with Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop emergency rules to protect workers, so no one has to choose between their health and their paycheck," Lopez added.
Among the rules advocates are seeking are provisions of shaded break areas; cool, clean water; heat-illness prevention programming; protections against retaliation; and a conclusion of work when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
Members of the Latino Network also called on Guatemalan officials to travel to the United States to view working conditions for themselves.
"The heat that Perez died in last weekend is going to happen again and we still don't have rules in place to protect people like Sebastian from further harm," said Tony DeFalco, the executive director of the Latino Network. "We want your foreign minister to see what those working conditions are like."
PCUN set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to help the family with expenses. Verduzco said the voices of the people will continue to get louder until there is change.
"It takes a whole village, lie they say, and that's why we are here showing up," she said.
Francisco Perez's death was among scores in Oregon attributed to the recent record-setting heatwave. Officials have said those who perished ranged in age from 38 to 94.
Verduzco also noted that the farmworker union is demanding emergency rules to protect workers from heat and wildfire smoke.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.