Please Tell Fallen Farm Worker’s Family We Care

(6:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the tragic and preventable death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez.  She who died due to heat stroke while laboring in a Stockton area vineyard when the company failed to provide her with the shade and water required by California law.  Her body temperature was 108.4 degrees when she was finally taken to a hospital nearly two hours after she collapsed.  Doctors found after her death that she was two months pregnant.

To date no one from the companies involved has had the decency to express condolences to Maria’s family.

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We want to let Maria’s family know that people from all over North America care about this tragedy-that people from all walks of life and of all backgrounds recognize the value of Maria’s life and death. Tell the family that you share the sorrow of Maria’s death and pledge to do what you can, so other farm worker families do not have to endure the same agony.

Now, the United Farm Workers are asking people to sign a condolance card to her family.

Sign Here

More, after the fold.  

UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez at the Funeral Services:

Brothers and sisters, Maria was not an agricultural implement; she was an important human being.

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Maria’s life was worth a lot-and she deserved a lot better treatment than she received at the hands of the labor contractor and grower.

“How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?”

First, a little about Maria for those who may not know about this tragedy.  From Remarks by UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez at Funeral Services for Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez:

How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?

Wednesday, May 14 was a hot day. The official temperature was 95 degrees; inside the vineyard where Maria and her boyfriend, Florentino Bautista, worked it was probably about 100 degrees.

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Maria had been working for nine hours that day, since 6 a.m., suckering-removing suckers and leaving the stronger shoots to grow.

There was no water at all for the workers from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

There was no shade and since the vines were young, standing only a few feet tall, there was no protection from the hot sun.

There was no training for foremen or workers on what to do if someone became ill from the heat.

All these protections have been demanded by the state of California since 2005, when the United Farm Workers convinced Governor Schwarzenegger to issue the first state regulation in the country to prevent deaths and illnesses from extreme heat.

At 3:40 p.m. on May 14, Maria became dizzy. She was unsteady on her feet. She didn’t know where she was and didn’t recognize Florentino, her boyfriend. He approached her and she passed out, her body lying on the ground. Florentino held her in his arms.

The foreman for the labor contractor, Raul Martinez, came over and stood four or five feet away, staring at the couple for about five minutes. He said, “Oh, that’s what happens to people, but don’t worry. If you apply some rubbing alcohol to her, it will go away.”

Maria was carried to a nearby van that the workers pay seven dollars a day for rides to and from work. She was placed on a back seat. With no air conditioning, it was hotter inside the van than outside.

Someone wet Maria’s bandana with water and placed it on her forehead. She was still unconscious.

The foreman told Florentino to get rubbing alcohol from the store. But Maria’s crew was still working. They had to wait for them to finish as other workers relied on the same van.

The rubbing alcohol didn’t help either. So the van headed towards Lodi. The driver decided Maria looked so ill that she needed medical help. On the way to the clinic in Lodi, the foreman called on the driver’s cell phone and spoke to Florentino. “If you take her to a clinic,” the foreman said, “don’t say she was working [for the contractor]. Say she became sick because she was jogging to get exercise. Since she’s underage, it will create big problems for us.”

They arrived at the clinic at 5:15 p.m., more than an hour and a half after Maria was stricken. She was so sick an ambulance took her to the hospital. Doctors said her temperature upon arrival was 108.4 degrees, far beyond what the human body can take.

Maria’s heart stopped six times in the next two days. The doctors revived her. On Friday morning her good heart stopped again and efforts to revive her failed. The doctors learned Maria was pregnant. She probably never realized she was going to be a mother.

Doctors said if emergency medical help had been summoned or she had been taken to the hospital sooner, she might have survived.

“How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?”

On June 1, 2008, the UFW sponsored a four-day pilgrimage in her memory  from the Lodi church where Maria’s final eulogy was held. They marched about 50 miles to California’s Sacramento capitol, where they appealed to the Governor and lawmakers to protect farm workers in the fields and ensure nothing like this ever occurs again.

Marchers made their way from Galt to Thornton on June 2, the second day of the four-day pilgrimage to Sacramento. The pilgrimage was in honor of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who died of heat-related illness two weeks ago while working in a vineyard. The farm workers and their supporters are marching to push for greater enforcement of California’s farm labor laws.

Farm labor advocates called on state legislators to amend a bill that would make it easier for farm workers to unionize after a four-day march from Lodi and vigil for Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, the pregnant, 17-year-old farm worker who died May 16 of a heat-related illness she suffered while working in a Farmington vineyard.

This week, the State of California put the contractor out of business:

Merced Farm Labor Contractor, which hired the 17-year-old farmworker from Lodi who died after working at a Farmington vineyard, has been put out of business by the state.

The California Department of Industrial Relations issued an administrative order on Thursday prohibiting Merced Farm Labor Contractor from operating in the fields, citing the company’s failure to comply with heat illness regulations as a threat to worker safety.

“With temperatures rising, we are taking this unusual step as a way to ensure that workers employed by this company are not put at risk,” said Industrial Relations Director John Duncan. “This order will be in force until the company is in full compliance with California heat illness prevention regulations.”

Change To Win on Daily Kos: Protecting Workers’ Lives EVERY Day

Maria was not an agricultural implement; she was an important human being.

We here in Docudharma community can show we care.  Please sign the UFW card and write a short note to Maria’s family.  For Maria and all others who have suffered.

To date no one from the companies involved has had the decency to express condolences to Maria’s family–not the farm labor contractor, not the company who owns the field where Maria labored, nor the wine distributor. There have been no letters, no one showed up at the funeral–nothing.

Please help us show Maria’s family–including her grieving mother–the support from the community at large. Help us show her the impact Maria’s life and death had on strangers she never knew, people whose paths never crossed hers.

Please write a condolence note to Maria’s mother and family–a line or two will do–although you are welcome to write more. Help us show Maria’s mother that thousands of people recognize the value of Maria’s life.

We will be printing out these letters and giving them to Maria’s grieving mother.

Please tell her you care

Sign Here

To learn more about the United Farm Workers and their struggles for justice, hit the link.

To provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty

10 comments

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    • TomP on June 14, 2008 at 11:42 pm
      Author

    Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez and all workers who have fallen.

  1. People want cheap food from cheap unprotected labour and this is the end result.  

    • TomP on June 15, 2008 at 12:57 am
      Author

    spread the word, Nightprowlkitty.

    • RiaD on June 15, 2008 at 2:45 am

    my dad has worked for migrant rights for years….thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

    excellent essay!

  2. widespread attention.

    If Maria were a farm implement, and she overheated and could not continue, you can bet that a mechanic would have arrived right away and attended to her in a hurry.   But, as you pointed, out she wasn’t an implement, she was a person.

    Putting the contractor out of business is a good, first step, but it won’t really solve the problem, which is exploitation and a complete and utter lack of respect for honest work.  When are we going to acknowledge the humanity of those without whom we wouldn’t eat?

    • kj on June 15, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    of corn and soybean fields in the American Midwest served to provide shade to farmers back in the days when they plowed with horses.  my father used to tell me stories of men getting heat stroke without water and the value of sitting in the shade with a wet towel around his neck during the really hot mornings and afternoons.

    common sense.  “horse sense.”  basic decency. water and shade.

  3. Ain’t no more cane on the Brazos,

    It’s all been ground down to molasses.

    You want to come on the river in 1904.

    You could find many dead men most every road.

    Why don’t you rise up you dead men,

    Help me drive my road?

    Shoulda been on a river in nineteen and ten.

    They were drivin the women just as hard they was the men.

    Ain’t no more cane on the Brazos,

    It’s all been ground down to molasses.

    Go down, old Hannah, don’t you rise no more.

    Don’t you rise up now till the Judgement Day is for sure.

    Wake up old nighttime and raise up your arms again.

    Well there’s some in the building,

    And there’s some in the yard,

    There’s some in the graveyard,

    And there’s some going home.

    Why don’t you wake up you people,

    And lift up your heads?

    Well you may get a pardon or you may drop dead.

    Ain’t no more cane on the Brazos,

    It’s all been ground down to molasses.

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