While San Mateo County prosecutors are busy investigating the details of Monday’s mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, they also say “we have to act” on the conditions of farmworkers living in shipping containers, working 70-hour weeks, at well below minimum wage.
On one hand, it feels kind of thoughts-and-prayersy to see situations like Monday’s mass shooting in Half Moon Bay that killed seven people and injured another, and to try and blame it on something other it’s the availability of guns! (Alleged shooter Chunli Zhao used a semi-automatic which he did legally own, according to CNN).
On the other hand, you can sure see how it’s a human-trauma tinderbox — if reports are true — that these primarily immigrant Asian and Latino farm workers were living in shipping containers, and working up to 70 hours of hard labor every week, allegedly for less than minimum wage and no overtime pay.
“Some of you should see where these folks are living, the conditions they’re in. Living in shipping containers, making $9 an hour,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at a Tuesday press conference in Half Moon Bay, according to the Chronicle. “No health care, no support services.”
The majority of farmworkers are undocumented, often don’t know their rights, and have no immunity from being reported, so they don’t speak up. One labor activist told the Chronicle (speaking in a general sense, not describing this site) that these laborers are “working 40 to 70 hours” a week, another advocate said at some sites the workers “wash clothes in pits in the backyard.”
The Chronicle also notes, "A 2017 report found that about 70% of workers in San Mateo County live on the property they farm, many in makeshift, overcrowded conditions."
(Following Newsom’s Tuesday speech, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Industrial Relations told the Chronicle they were “looking into potential labor and workplace safety and health violations for the worksites in Half Moon Bay where the mass shootings took place.”)
KGO did some digging on the shooter Zhao and found he “was a forklift driver at one of the farms for five to six years” and that “he also lived at the farm,” though it is not clear which of the two farms at which the shootings occurred this refers to. KGO also adds that “Detectives say Zhao targeted all eight victims intentionally as the fellow Asian and Latino farm workers were reportedly involved in an on-going feud.”
But on Wednesday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the act was not a hate crime. "[Zhao] gave several hour-long statements last night in this building here, and while I won't go into the statement, I will say, it has alleviated for us, any thought that this was a hate crime," Wagstaffe said
The allegations are putting these farms on the defensive. At California Terra Garden (formerly Mountain Mushroom Farm), an unnamed spokesperson disputed Newsom’s “$9 an hour” figure, saying workers were paid minimum wage, and sometimes up to $20 an hour. That spokesperson also added that "Shipping containers doesn't reflect what's on property."
But a friend of one of the slain workers disputed this. "It's not true, a lot of people (farmworkers) live in poor conditions and nobody knows that. Those people don't feel comfortable to raise their voices to their employers," friend Karina Santiago told KGO.
This will all surely be litigated in the weeks to come. But in the meanwhile, the Bay Area News Group reports on a verified GoFundMe campaign to support the victims’ families, on the page Half Moon Bay Farmworker Shooting & Flood Victims.
Related: Victims' Names Released In Half Moon Bay Shooting; Details Emerge Including Note Suspect Left For Wife [SFist]
Top image: A San Mateo County Sheriff's vehicle sits beside the farm property where multiple RVs and other structures provided shelter for farmworkers there. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images