Heralded as heroes, Bay Area farmworkers still in the shadows post-pandemic

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Friday, August 19, 2022
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A spotlight was put on farmworkers as they continued their essential work during the pandemic, but advocates say there's still a long way to go.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- Heralded as heroes amid the pandemic, farmworkers continued their essential work, despite the risks. While the spotlight did have an impact on working conditions, advocates say there's still a long way to go.

"There was a lot of fear. I had a lot of fear," said 67-year-old Ramon Sonoqui, who's been working the fields of California for decades and is now working at a farm in Half Moon Bay. "We work in groups of about 20 workers close to each other."

"We saw they were not protected, so we were providing, masks, hand sanitizer, information," said Joaquin Jimenez, a director at ALAS, a nonprofit that provides farmworkers with everything from food to housing help.

"The pandemic did change how society sees farmworkers. It gave them a spotlight for the work they are doing," said Jimenez, noting some action is starting.

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A handful of state and federal bills have services aimed at improving wages and working conditions.

"We're now talking about better housing, healthcare, clean water and other services, including mental health."

Sonoqui gave ABC7 News reporter Tara Campbell a quick lesson in harvesting brussels sprouts, and she quickly learned it's even harder than it looks.

Joaquin Jimenez: "He wants to know how you're feeling about doing this work?"

Tara Campbell: It's hard. Yeah. I can feel my hands are already very tense."

Joaquin Jimenez: "Imagine doing this for seven hours."

Tara Campbell: "I can't imagine doing it for five more minutes."

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Sonoqui said many people don't last more than a day and that it's a testament to those willing to do the work.

"It's going to be very important that these people have good opportunities here, have healthcare, have proper housing, so we can maintain a proper workforce," said John Gusti, who owns the farm, adding that giving workers the option of becoming a U.S. citizen would go a long way.

"You know they were on the front line, they were out there putting their health at risk for everyone, yet they can't become citizens," Gusti said.

In the meantime, the farmworkers are keeping their heads down and getting the work done one bucket at a time.

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