Dying in the Fields: Farm Workers Sue California

Thursday, August 06, 2009
María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez died at 17 in May 2008 while working in a vineyard near Stockton

Despite creating a program specifically designed to protect them from heat exposure, farm workers are continuing to die in agricultural fields in California, prompting the ACLU and others to file a lawsuit against the state. In 2005, state officials implemented the “Heat Illness Prevention” regulation, but that did not prevent six farm workers from dying last summer from heat-related illness.

Representatives of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union say field laborers often are afraid to complain or take a break for fear of being fired. Union officials also insist growers sometimes shortchange workers on their break times when it’s hot, or provide them with unhealthy water to drink.
Contributing to the problem is California’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety (Cal-OSHA) being understaffed due to budget cuts over the past 15 years that has left fewer inspectors to visit fields and ensure compliance with state law. According to the UFW, there are 650,000 farm workers in California and about 35,000 farms. Yet there are only 187 safety inspectors and they are responsible for protecting all of the state’s 17 million workers, not just those employed in agriculture. Over the last 15 years, the number of farm workers in California has increased by 20%, yet the number of workplace inspections has declined by 35%.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
UFW Claims Lax Regulators Let Workers Die (by Elizabeth Banicki, Courthouse News Service)
UFW Complaint (Superior Court of California Los Angeles) (PDF)
California: Charges Brought in Death of Teenage Farm Worker (by Kevin Martinez, World Socialist Web Site)


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