A series of three vigils were held around Oregon on Saturday in memory of Sebastian Francisco Perez, a 38-year-old farm worker who died during a June heat wave that brought temperatures above 115 in the Willamette Valley.
Perez had been moving irrigation lines at Ernst Farms and Nursery in St. Paul when workers noticed he was missing. They found him unconscious and couldn’t revive him.
Vigils were organized in Hermiston, St. Paul and Portland, outside the honorary Guatemalan Consulate.
At the vigil in Portland, scores of people chanted his name and called for Oregon’s occupational safety agency, OSHA, to adopt emergency rules to deal with the heat.
“We are asking OSHA to provide access to clean and fresh water for our farm workers. To provide areas with actual shade for our farm workers to rest. To actually have paid breaks, especially when the heat is exceeding 90 degrees,” April Alvarez told the crowd. Alvarez is a field director for Oregon’s Farmworker Union, PCUN.
OSHA put out a press release during the heatwave warning employers to be on the look out for heat illnesses. Agency officials also say they’re discussing possible new rules with stakeholders.
“Employers need to take the threat of heat illness seriously, which means acting sooner — not later — to put the appropriate safeguards in place,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, statewide health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “And they don’t have to go it alone. Oregon OSHA is ready to help with free expert advice and a variety of educational resources.”
Perez’s supporters have established a Go Fund Me fundraising effort to help the farm worker’s family in Guatemala. By early Saturday afternoon, it had raised $8,846 toward a $10,000 goal.
“Sebastian left an important role in his family that no one can ever fill,” the fundraising web page said.