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Activists protest for farmworker rights

WENATCHEE — Arianna Montiel could barely finish her speech Saturday when speaking about her father Francisco Montiel, who died from COVID-19 complications.

Arianna Montiel was participating in a protest at Memorial Park calling for greater protections for farmworkers. Francisco Montiel, a Brewster resident, worked for Gebbers Farms for close to 30 years. He died Aug. 1 from COVID-19 at Central Washington Hospital, according to Erandy Montiel, Arianna’s sister.

“I didn’t get to see my dad in the morning, I didn’t get to enjoy my dad in the evening, because he worked so much, because he wanted to provide for our family,” Arianna Montiel said through tears.

Provided photo 

Francisco Montiel

Francisco Montiel quarantined at home after a family member was identified as having COVID-19 by the Okanogan County Public Health department, said Amy Philpott, a Gebbers Farms spokesperson, in a Friday interview. When he left work, Philpott said, he felt well and was disappointed to leave work. She said all his coworkers were notified when the company found out he had contracted the virus.

The family disputes some of the company statement, Erandy Montiel said in an email. Francisco Montiel was coughing and had a sore throat but continued to work for several days because he didn’t have a fever, she said. Her sister then tested positive and he quarantined.

Francisco Montiel is the third Gebbers Farms employee to die from COVID-19 or COVID-19 complications within a month. The other two who died were H2A guest workers from other countries.

Almost 200 people participated in Saturday’s demonstration protest, which started with speeches in Memorial Park and then continued in a march through downtown Wenatchee.

“Farmworkers are being used as sacrificial lambs and being treated as disposable and expendable for products to go to market,” said Eduardo Castañeda-Díaz of Quincy. Castañeda-Díaz is the Democratic candidate for state representative in District 13, which includes Grant and Kittitas counties, and is running against the incumbent Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake.

Castañeda-Díaz was among the event organizers, which also included the Community for the Advancement of Family Education, Chelan-Douglas County Volunteer Attorney Services, North Central Washington Democrats, Immigrant and Latinx Solidarity Group.

Erandy Montiel said she is concerned about how companies like Gebbers are treating farmworkers. The company showed her father and her family a lack of compassion during his sickness and after his death, she said.

“I can’t prevent myself from being angry, because all of this could have been prevented with the right protections,” Erandy Montiel said.

The company has been doing the bare minimum required of it during the pandemic, she said. The company knew her father had COVID-19 symptoms, she alleged, but had the men he was working with continue working. Even when his test came back positive for the virus, they did not test his coworkers, Erandy Montiel said.

She also lives in Brewster and hears stories that migrant workers who test positive are put into quarantine and their condition is not monitored by the company, Montiel said. Workers are also concerned about retaliation if they complain about conditions.

“They’re scared, they need money and they can’t speak up because of retaliation,” she said. “Even if they don’t retaliate by firing them,the way that they do it is they just don’t hire them the next season.”

The company did pay for half of their father’s funeral expenses and the family does appreciate that gesture, she said. But if she’s being honest, Erandy Montiel said, she thought they’d cover all of the funeral expenses.

She was also surprised by the company’s attitude toward her family when her father was sick. Her mother and sister had to go to the company’s office to ask for his sick leave while he was in the hospital.

“And their manager was just like, ‘Oh we tried to call him up,’ but they knew that my dad was in the Intensive Care Unit,” Erandy Montiel said. “So we were like, ‘How do you expect my father to answer his phone when he is on life support?’”

She plans to continue to fight for the farmworker families, so others don’t have to go through a similar experience, she said.

“My dad passed away by himself, because we weren’t allowed to be near him,” Erandy Montiel said. “So it makes it very real and (we feel) invalidated, but I’m determined to be the voice for those farmworkers and fight until there is more protection for them.”

Gebbers Farms is heartbroken by the passing of Francisco Montiel, who was a long-time employee of the company, Philpott said.

“If the family ever felt that we were anything but respectful, we are genuinely sorry for that,” Philpott said.

His coworkers’ temperatures were taken every day and they were monitored for symptoms after he departed, she said. Employees can also choose to be tested at any time, although they don’t need to inform the company.

A family member asked the company to wait until the next payroll cycle to collect all of his benefits at once, Philpott said.

Employees are all provided masks and shields at no charge, the company requires social distancing whenever possible and provides hand-washing and sanitizing stations, she said.

The state Department of Labor and Industries is looking into Gebbers Farms practices, according to The Seattle Times reporting.

Getting school supplies

Wenatchee hiker gets ‘a second chance’ after rescue

WENATCHEE — If it weren’t for a volunteer, ranger and aide all being in Squilchuck State Park at the same time, Anthony Fiano might not be retelling his story.

Like many Wenatchee residents, Fiano had spent the summer hiking without incident. But on the afternoon of Aug. 10, while on Squilchuck’s Upper Wheeler Reservoir trail, he started feeling tired and lightheaded.

Luckily he was with his wife, Abby. Both are nurses.

“I asked him, ‘What are you feeling? What’s going on?’” Abby said. “I had no idea anything was wrong until that moment. He was just like, ‘You’ve got to go get help. I’m really dizzy.’ ... His pulse was so weak, I could hardly feel his pulse in his radial artery. He said he was feeling something in his chest, so I knew it was real.”

Fiano, 47, was having a heart attack. His wife helped him lie down and then ran back down the trail to get help.

She spotted park volunteer Eric Musgrove at a campsite, got his attention, and the two of them drove in his truck as far as they could before continuing on foot.

“I couldn’t sit up,” Anthony Fiano said. “I couldn’t do anything. My right coronary artery was completely blocked off. I stood up enough for him to get me over his shoulder. ... He carried me for a good hundred yards by himself, down a really uneven trail. It’s more of a gully than a trail; it’s very rocky.”

At one point he asked Musgrove to put him down and go get park ranger Jose Velazquez, who Musgrove knew was in the area.

Velazquez was showing new park aide Edgar Arroyo around Squilchuck. They went up to where Fiano was, helped Musgrove carry him down to Velazquez’s truck and then drove him to the lodge area to wait for medics.

“All we did was pretty much just talking to him, making sure he was OK and consoling him,” said Arroyo, who started the job a few weeks ago.

He said he and Velazquez were supposed to be at Squilchuck the day before but plans changed.

“Timing, you know. Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m glad everything’s OK now.”

Chelan County Fire District 1 and Lifeline Ambulance were dispatched shortly after 2 p.m., according to the call log. Fiano was taken to Central Washington Hospital, where he stayed for a few days.

Fiano said he’d never had a heart attack before and didn’t realize he had a problem until this hike. They had gone about a mile and half before his symptoms started, he said.

“Your coronary arteries, they can get to a point where someone’s like 90% to 95% occluded before anything happens and you notice it,” he said. “It was incredibly scary. The chest pain was crazy.”

Velazquez said Musgrove, who declined an interview, deserves much of the credit because of running up and down the trail multiple times to help Fiano and to get him and Arroyo. Musgrove’s quick thinking also led him to block Velazquez’s truck in with his own so he wouldn’t leave.

“Eric pretty much single-handedly saved that guy’s life,” Velazquez said.

Squilchuck has no full-time park ranger.

“You never know what the alternative circumstances would have been had I not decided to take Edgar that day and Eric happened to be working that day in that location,” Velazquez said. “I don’t feel like I did anything that day other than just be at the right place, right time, and just doing my job.”

But Fiano said without all three men, whom he didn’t know, he wouldn’t have made it. Now he gets to be there for Abby, who is pregnant.

“I wish it hadn’t happened to me, but it couldn’t have gone any better for me than it did,” he said. “A lot of that is because of the wonderful character of the people that were involved as well as the organization that exists between first responders and the hospital. ... Everybody’s been amazing, but those three, I feel so blessed to have them there. It’s really made me feel more positive about everything, having a second chance.”

Eastmont might delay the start of school due to technical issues

EAST WENATCHEE — Technical issues could delay Eastmont School District’s first day of school by three days.

At the Eastmont School Board meeting on Monday Superintendent Garn Christensen asked for and received flexibility to push out the Aug. 26 start date if ongoing technical issues, including not being able to access school rosters and schedules, cannot be resolved in time.

“We work on calendars a year or two ahead, but we don’t plan for pandemics,” he said. “We have some concerns that some of our technology systems will not be ready to go by the 26th.”

Christensen said Eastmont initiated the computer information system change in January before the pandemic started.

A data transfer was underway, but ran into problems with pulling students out of the traditional program into the virtual academy.

“When I met with principals on Friday, we talked with some of our professional leaders. The overall thought — probably split half and half — was yes, move forward if we have the technology working,” he said. “Later that evening, our tech department was able to turn on access to the database, so people could see class rosters and information. Prior to that, we didn’t have it.”

Later, staff reported it was not working.

“We did find some connectivity issues. A couple schools could not get logged in. While we were on the phones, our tech department didn’t see anything wrong with the networks. Not sure if it was password problems. So they’ll send out some techs to deal with that,” he said. “We still have a lot of questions with staffing and schedules.”

The lack of access to the database also is affecting teacher training that is underway this week. Chromebooks for students and teacher desktop workstations also are expected to arrive in the next few days.

It’s possible the problems will be resolved in time, he said. If so, school will start Wednesday, Aug. 26. If that’s not possible, he recommended starting school on Monday, Aug. 31, and adding three days to the schedule at the end of June.

“We are trying to provide educational services as soon as possible. At the same time, a three-day delay is not the end of the world,” Christensen said. “What I’d like to do, with board authority, is delay the calendar if needed. We still have the rest of the week where a lot of progress could be made. The board has final authority on the calendar because it affects the whole community.”

If a calendar change is needed, the board could call a special meeting later this week or early next week to consider making it official, he said.

Board members said they would prefer school start on time, but understood the concerns.

Board member Whitney Smith noted that starting school before resolving the technical issues could make matters worse.

Parents are already confused, she said, so bringing them back with technical issues is only going to “exacerbate that.”

Christensen said Eastmont is not alone.

“There are other districts around the state that have done technology upgrades to try and prepare for distance learning. Many don’t have the technology on hand due to supply chain problems,” Christensen said.

Three new COVID-19 deaths reported in Chelan and Douglas counties

EAST WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Health District on Monday reported three new deaths from COVID-19.

Two were men in their 80s, both from Chelan County, and one was a Douglas County man in his 50s, according to a health district news release.

The health district no longer reports in news releases the date of COVID-19 deaths or whether the residents had underlying health conditions.

The additional deaths bring Chelan County’s total to 10 and Douglas County’s to six. The most recent deaths were in late July.

There were eight Chelan County residents and six Douglas County residents hospitalized at Wenatchee’s Central Washington Hospital on Monday.

Chelan County has had 1,544 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Douglas County has reported 1,030.