Sebastián Francisco Pérez, a Guatemalan immigrant, died June 26.
Sebastián Francisco Pérez, a Guatemalan immigrant, died June 26.
Vigils were held July 3 in St. Paul, Portland and Hermiston to pay tribute to Sebastián Francisco Pérez, a migrant from Guatemala and agricultural worker who died as a result of the heat wave that hit the state.

Pérez was a 38-year-old Catholic husband and father.

In the wake of his death, the agricultural workers union PCUN demanded protection for laborers. Joining the call were Latino Network, CAUSA and Farm Worker Ministry Northwest.

Shaded areas, clean cold water, education and prevention programs on the health effects of exposure to heat, protection against retaliation, and halting work when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees are some of the measures the organizations requested.

Reyna López, executive director of PCUN said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Oregon should have enacted safety measures when weather reports predicted the high heat. Activists had urged OSHA to act.

“We believe death on the job is preventable,” López said.

The heat wave broke records in western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Oregon reported at least 107 deaths.

The state is working on permanent rules to protect workers from the extreme heat and smoke of wildfires, but the deadline to submit a proposal for those rules was pushed back because of the pandemic. The June scorchers caught state officials off guard.

“All Oregonians should be able to go to work knowing that conditions will be safe and that they will return home to their families at the end of the day,” Gov. Kate Brown said July 6.

Pérez arrived in the United States on May 5 to work at Ernst Nursery and Farms. He had been working extending irrigation lines before crews found him unconscious in the field at the end of his shift June 26. Temperatures in St. Paul reached 104 degrees that day.

An investigation is underway and could take three to four months to complete.

Pérez was one of 174,000 seasonal and migrant farm workers in Oregon this year.