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PAN joins UFW on 200 mile march for fairness

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UFW MarchYesterday, PAN joined United Farm Workers (UFW) for part of their 13-day, 200-mile pilgrimage to Sacramento, demanding fair policies for farmworkers.

About 20 people affliliated with PAN, including Co-Director Kathryn Gilje, joined the march for workers' rights yesterday morning on a stretch of highway between Lodi and Galt. "Peak fumigation season in California's strawberry fields is just a few weeks away," she said. "Governor Brown should follow the science, ensure fair treatment for farmworkers and take immediate steps to pull methyl iodide off the shelves."

During a lunch stop at Veronica Lara's home next to Highway 99 in the Central Valley, farmworker, environmental and health leaders called on Governor Jerry Brown to protect field laborers and stop the use of cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Recently released documents show that state officials in the Schwarzenegger Administration approved the use of methyl iodide, despite clear warnings from independent scientists that exposure to the chemical may cause cancer, thyroid disease and late-term miscarriages.

Gov. Brown can take one critical step to protect farmworkers by banning methyl iodide.

Farmworkers face serious health risks from methyl iodide, as they are exposed twice during the process of fumigating strawberry fields: first when the pesticide is applied to the ground and sealed in with black tarps, and again when the tarps are removed. Neighboring communities also face exposure through airborne pesticide drift.

The exposure levels approved as "safe" for workers are 120 times higher than the levels government scientists say protect against miscarriages and 56 times higher than the levels staff scientists say protect against thyroid cancer.

The Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Now march, organized by UFW, will end at the State Capitol this Sunday. The peregrinos (or pilgrims) are pushing the Governor to protect worker rights, including banning methyl iodide and signing The Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act that would make it easier for farmworkers to join unions and ensure they are paid for overtime.

In his June 28 message vetoing the bill, Gov. Brown wrote he was "not yet convinced" he needed to sign the measure. "'Not yet is not soon enough for the workers who face continued perils from extreme heat, methyl iodide, unfair wages and threatening employers," said UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. "Gov. Brown can take one critical step to protect farmworkers by banning methyl iodide."

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