California strawberry pickers may be fired after fleeing fire

Posted By CAROLINE LEE, UPI.com   |   May 9, 2013 at 2:09 PM   |   Comments

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May 9 (UPI) -- During a California blaze last week, field hands at a strawberry farm say they left the workplace due to heavy smoke, according to Los Angeles Weekly.

The workers abandoned the fields after it became difficult to breathe, even though the foreman warned them about what would happen if they left, according to LAist.

“The ashes were falling on top of us,” one worker told NBC LA. “They told us if we leave, there would be no job to return to.”

The fire, which has become known as the Springs Fire, has been mostly contained but there are still areas that are burning.

Earlier reports said about a dozen workers were fired for walking off the job but the Southern California farm owners said that it was a misunderstanding.

When the workers returned to Crisalida Berry Farms a day later, they reportedly were fired for walking off the job -- and a rep for the farm said they were fired for leaving without permission.

The workers are not unionized, but the United Farm Workers got involved nevertheless and reinstated all 15 workers.

“No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger,” UFW representative Lauro Barrajas said.

But Dave Murray of Crisalida Berry Farms stood by what was said before: It was a misunderstanding.

"These workers were not fired and we welcome them back on our farm," Murray said.

Most of the workers did not return, though -- just one of the 15 went back to the farm. The rest reportedly took jobs on other farms in the area.

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