Tuesday, July 15, 2008

REST IN PEACE: Farm Workers Die in Scorching Heat

State Monitoring an Urgent Need

"Last week I talked to a farm worker picking nectarines. I asked him what precautions his employer was taking, and he said that other than being told to drink water and seek shade -- if it got too hot -- there was nothing else.

There have not been employee meetings to keep reminding people of the deadly potential. Also, employees are intimidated, thinking that if they take time off to cool down they will be fired, and that's not something to look forward to..."
- Graciela Martinez -AFSC area staff (Visalia, California)

For California's farm workers, keeping track of the weather conditions and the blazing heat is increasingly a matter of daily survival. The physically grueling and backbreaking work that exposes farm workers to the unbearable heat is increasingly a matter of life -- or death.

While some media attention has been drawn to the tragedies in California, farm workers in vineyards and agricultural fields throughout the nation also face similar weather conditions.

Sadly, California is a disturbing reminder of what can happen when basic labor and worker rights are not vigorously monitored or implemented.

Since mid-May four persons have succumbed to the incessant heat and unrelenting weather conditions. In each instance s/he indicated not feeling well. In several of these deaths, body temperatures exceeded 105 degrees:

May 13: Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez (17), pregnant, died while laboring in Stockton area grapevines. Her core temperature was 108.

June 20: Jose Macarena Hernandez (64), died while harvesting butternut squash in Santa Maria. He died during one of the state's record-breaking heat days.

July 8: Abdon Felix Garcia (42), father of three, died after a day of labor in Arvin-based vineyards.

July 9: Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez (48), died after a day of work in Reedley. He leaves behind two teen-agers, ages (13) and (16).

According to Graciela Martinez, "These tragic deaths can be avoided with proper information and vigilance, by working with the employers, or with the farm labor contractors to make sure rest time and water is provided at all times, especially during the hottest parts of the year."


Send the Governor an e-mail: http://www.gov.ca.gov/interact#contact OR

Call the Governor's office: 916-445-2841 OR

Send the Governor a fax: 916-558-3160 OR

1. Request that he act now to prevent any future deaths or tragedies.

2. Urge him to add real "muscle" to the state's heat regulations (which he signed in 2006), and make sure that there are sufficient state inspectors to monitor compliance by agricultural employers and farm labor contractors.

3. Let him know that you will continue to monitor this situation until visible improvements are made and farm worker labor rights are fully protected.