Workers were fired for fleeing a fire on a California strawberry farm, it appears. 15 strawberry pickers left the property of Crisalida Berry Farms last week on May 2 because of a nearby wildfire despite the foreman telling them their jobs would be gone if they returned.
The field hands who were fired for fleeing the fire said that it had become "hard to breathe" in Oxnard, Calif. because of the nearby Springs Fire in Camarillo 11 miles away. They claimed they were forced indoors, but decided to leave without permission from the foreman for health reasons.
"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."
When the workers reported for work on May 3, they claimed they had all been fired for walking off the job. They were told they would be paid for the day's work. However, the strawberry pickers contacted the United Farm Workers union, who decided to step in on their behalf.
"Oh, yeah, the smoke was very bad," Lauro Barrajas, a rep for the union, told NBC LA. "That's no doubt about that."
After some negotiations, all the workers were told they were welcome to come back to work on Ventura County farm.
"No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger," Barrajas said.
However, Dave Murray of Crisalida Berry Farms says the workers were never fired, and that the incident was a simple misunderstanding.
"These workers were not fired and we welcome them back on our farm," he told UPI.
Though the company disputes whether or not the workers were fired, the strawberry pickers' reaction to the negotiation helps shed light on the situation. Out of the 15 workers who originally worked at the farm, only one decided to return.