PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nearly 100 people lost their lives in Oregon during the record-shattering heat wave during the last weekend of June. One of those people was farmworker Sebastian Francisco Perez.
Perez, 38, died June 26, one of the hottest days of the heat wave, while working at Ernst Nursery and Farms in St. Paul. The workers had been moving irrigation lines when they noticed Perez wasn’t there and found him. They called his nephew, Pedro Lucas, who arrived to find his uncle unconscious and dying.
On Saturday, people gathered in Portland, Hermiston and St. Paul to remember him — a husband, brother, son from Guatemala. After a reading of the Farmworkers Prayer, community leaders called on state leaders and the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration to change regulations and protect farmworkers. They said workers need mandatory access to fresh water, shade and rest breaks.
“We are here together with our sister organziations coming together as a community to bring justice,” said Patti Verduzco, the Communications Director for PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union.
Members of the Latino Network also called on Guatemalan officials to travel to the United States to view working conditions for themselves.
“The heat that Perez died in last weekend is going to happen again and we still don’t have rules in place to protect people like Sebastian from further harm,” said Tony DeFalco, the executive director of the Latino Network. “We want your foreign minister to see what those working conditions are like.”
Perez’s wife and mother, who are still in Guatemala, talked to the crowd at the Portland vigil by phone.
“They are sad. We are devastated,” Verduzco said. “We can’t do anything to bring him back but what we can do is keep fighting.”
PCUN set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to help the family with expenses. Verduzco said the voices of the people will continue to get louder until there is change.
“It takes a whole village, like they say, and that’s why we are here showing up,” she said.