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Dr. Eva Galvez: 'I do not believe that farmworker overtime is a political or economic issue.'

COURTESY PHOTO - Eva GalvezAs a proud daughter of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, I was drawn to become a physician at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center because of their mission to provide high-quality, culturally appropriate health care to migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

During the last 12 years, I have seen the devastating health effects caused by racially motivated inequities such as uncompensated overtime to farmworkers and their families. This is why I support proposed legislation in this year's Oregon legislative session that includes farmworkers in the same overtime protections that all other workers enjoy.

The physical, mental, and social impacts of uncompensated, mandated overtime to farmworker health and well-being are undeniable. Long hours of difficult physical labor often increase the risk of injuries, exposure to pesticides and infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

The pandemic laid bare the inequities of a system that does not value the contribution of the farmworker. While the Latinx community represents less than 10% of the total population in Oregon, they were more than 30% of the positive cases. In addition, long hours that are not paid, exacerbated by already low wages, create barriers to farmworkers seeking out medical care or being able to afford medications.

One patient who comes to mind is a farmworker that I met four years ago. When I first diagnosed him with diabetes, he was in the early stages. Due to long work hours, he was not able to get to our clinic for his medications or receive support for his diabetes. He did not have the resources to buy and prepare the healthy foods he needed to keep his disease under control. As a result, he ended up with an amputation of his toe last spring.

I do not believe that farmworker overtime is a political or economic issue. It is a matter of health. For too long we have held the belief that health is about what happens in the doctor's office or the medications you take. It is far more than that. Factors such as income, housing, diet and exercise make the biggest difference of all.

We need healthy farmworkers. Good health choices are nearly impossible when you are forced to work long hours but do not receive the benefits or compensation for your work.

In addition to overtime pay, ensuring farmworkers can make a living wage, have access to healthcare and receive paid sick leave are important steps towards a healthy community.

Farmworker overtime is the first critical step toward lifting families out of poverty. The pandemic pulled back the curtain on a community we cannot live without such as health care providers, teachers, grocery store clerks and farmworkers. Farmworkers continue to be part of this essential workforce, yet they are not afforded the same right of simply being paid for the work they do.

Everyone deserves to be fairly compensated for the work they do, but for too long, Oregon farmworkers have not had that opportunity. Long, uncompensated hours in grueling conditions continue to be a major contributor to the poor health outcomes this community sees every day.

Oregon lawmakers must ensure that everyone has the same access to the things that help us prosper.

Dr. Eva Galvez is a physician at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro.

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