Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)

Protecting farmworker health in the face of a natural disaster

Ventura, California

Swift, accurate and effective mass communications are of the essence during a crisis. We need to hold government officials accountable for failing to protect the most vulnerable populations during disasters like the Thomas Fire. We are thankful for Resource Media’s support in our effort to empower, prepare, and protect frontline communities against the ongoing impacts of climate change.
Lucas Zucker, CAUSE
Policy and Communications Director
The Situation

The Thomas Fire broke out on December 4, 2017, in Ventura and quickly became the largest fire in the history of California at a time. Similar to cities across Southern California, Ventura is home to hundreds of thousands of working class and Spanish-speaking Latino families. At the onset of the fire when many houses were burned down, and as the disaster continued, government agencies failed to alert local communities by providing timely information in Spanish—including evacuation and boil orders, as tap water was unsafe to drink. Many farmworkers also continued working outdoors despite toxic chemicals released from the Thomas Fire. The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) mobilized to protect communities that were being neglected by state agencies and first responders. When CAUSE volunteers attempted to pass out protective masks to farmworkers, they were met with threats and intimidation by many agriculture businesses. CAUSE tried to solicit the support of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CAL-OSHA), but the agency had closed its nearby offices due to the ongoing fires. CAUSE then took to social media to call on their members for additional help.

Our Role

Resource Media staff took quick notice of CAUSE’s social media alerts and coordinated with our organization’s pro-bono team on planning a timely and appropriate response. Together with CAUSE, Resource Media identified priority demands, finessed messaging, developed press materials, reached out to regional and national media, prepared spokespeople for interviews, helped coordinate a press event, and provided on-the- ground communications support. Resource Media invited press to interview CAUSE volunteers and community leaders who were passing out bottled water and N-95 masks. The media coverage also amplified CAUSE’s demands to government officials for adequate emergency response and relief for farmworkers and nearby working-class communities. Resource Media was able to secure coverage in The Los Angeles Times, Ventura County Star, Southern California ABC and Telemundo affiliates, Al Jazeera, and more.

The Impact

Thanks to heightened media attention from regional and national news outlets, CAUSE was able to pressure CAL-OSHA to open up its local office to process workplace hazard complaints. As the Thomas Fire continued, CAL-OSHA issued a directive to agriculture business owners, requiring them to provide farmworkers with the necessary accommodations such as N-95 protective masks. At the start of the 2018 California legislative session, state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) introduced legislation to give counties the option of automatically enrolling every resident in a location-based emergency notification program and require state and county governments to ensure that emergency communications are made available in the county’s most prevalent language other than English. Our rapid response further shed light on the reality that frontline communicates are underserved and unprepared for natural disasters and climate change, and that emergency responders are ill-equipped to respond to these urgent needs. Additionally, the state needs effective policies and robust funding for ongoing public education campaigns and the development weatherization solutions informed by the communities most at-risk.