On a sweaty evening, some six dozen people gather after their workday in the Homestead parking lot of WeCount!, a non-profit membership organization that serves low-wage immigrant workers, to speak about Que Calor, a program meant to improve the condition of those who work on farms, in plant nurseries, and as day laborers.
WeCount! aims to make sure workers have sufficient shade to cool off and have breaks that get them out of the field for a few minutes. They eventually hope to pass a law requiring farm owners to adhere to those standards.
“Ultimately, our goal is to win policies that improve the lives of immigrant workers,” says Oscar Londono, co-executive director of the organization. “We try to really listen deeply to what our members want, what our members’ problems are, and then we create campaigns that address what those problems are.”
Londono (right) talking to a family. (Adrianna Rojas/SFMN)
Since 2006, WeCount! has advocated for of workers’ rights, particularly focused on the Hispanic immigrant community. Que Calor is just one of six programs that WeCount! runs. It is aimed at helping outdoor workers endure the increasing heat caused by global warming.
Andres Jimenez, who has worked outdoors as an electrician, plumber and welder, is one of the leaders in Que Calor. He wants to see a law passed, especially because climate change is making conditions worse.
“It’s a law that’s just not something we want on a whim but a necessity for us,” says Jimenez, in Spanish. “It’s a humanitarian necessity for others because the heat is going to come much hotter than it was before.”
Andres Jimenez (left) listening to a meeting next to a participant. (Adrianna Rojas/SFMN)
Jimenez was a member of the organization several years ago, but went to the Carolinas for work and returned about two years ago.
“I rejoined now because I saw that the organization had younger people,” says Jimenez, 57. “The leaders like Oscar and others like him are younger and have different perspectives and different things to fight for. Now in this institution, the changes on what’s being advocated are progressing like the programs we have, which I like.”
Claudia Navarro, 28, who works with Londono as co-executive director, says that when she and Londono first took on their roles in 2020 they struggled to recruit because of the anti-immigrant sentiment at the time, as well as the pandemic.
“Thankfully, we’ve been working to build that up,” she says. “We have been able to grow our membership to over 500 again in the last two years.”
Now, Navarro looks forward to building an organization with thousands of workers across Florida, who she says have little power because they’re not organized.
“Even immigrants in South Florida have an immense amount of power that hasn’t been tapped into quite just yet,” she says. “That’s what I want to do — build a very large umbrella organization that can actually make meaningful changes and make living and working conditions for immigrant workers in the county better.”
In the meantime, Navarro has a full-time job working around 70 hours a week recruiting members for the organization.
“We’re just trying to do our best to continue growing and bringing in and retaining members from our historical past,” she says.