Summer in California hasn't even started and we just got word that it happened again. According to the June 5th Fresno Bee newspaper, Maximo Lopez Barajas died while pruning in a pomegranate orchard. The Bee said Maximo "collapsed in heat that exceeded 100 degrees that day." Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for the state Department of Industrial Relations, said emergency crews were called and the man was taken to Coalinga Regional Medical Center, where he died. We are awaiting the coroner's report.
Reports show that since California issued its emergency 2005 regulations to keep farm workers from dying of extreme heat, preventable farm worker deaths still occur at a similar pace as before. Not only that, but when Cal-OSHA, the state work safety agency, finds violations of its regulations, reports shows the state often does not issue citations, go back to recheck violators and make sure the violations have been corrected.
This cannot continue. Because the state has failed to adequately enforce its heat standards, the UFW is sponsoring AB 2346, the Farm Worker Safety Act by Assemblymember Betsy Butler. This bill will let farm workers enforce mandatory shade and drinking water requirements by taking delinquent employers to court. It will also make growers jointly responsible with farm labor contractors they hire to ensure that farm workers on their properties are given shade and water when temperatures soar. AB 2346 does not impose any costs on taxpayers. Perfectly sensible restrictions, right?
Of course, growers and their allies strongly oppose this bill, claiming it has "impossible requirements." An article in June 1st'sWestern Farm Press included this comment from Stockton Republican Assemblymember Bill Berryhill, who is also a wine grape grower: “AB 2346 would warp the state’s heat illness regulations in ways that no farmer can implement.” Does providing water and shade guaranteed by the law sound like something that "no farmer can implement"?
The growers condemn the bill for establishing what the critics call "crippling fines” for violations. Crippling penalties? If employers comply with the law, there are no penalties. Penalties can be imposed only for violations -- like the failures to provide shade and water that have led to farm worker deaths.
We can't let farm workers keep on dying. AB 2346 just passed the California state Assembly. It will be heard next in the Senate Appropiations Committee. Please e-mail the chair of this committee — Senator Christine Kehoe —TODAY and tell them to support this crucial bill. Farm workers cannot keep having their lives jeopardized because of grower indifference.