United Farm Workers Calls for Manslaughter Charges Against Company in Death of 17 Year Old

(3:45PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

I’ve written in the past about the preventable death of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez and her unborn child.  California’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency recently issued a $262,700 fine against the Central Valley farm labor contracting company that employed Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, the 17-year old farm worker who died of heat stroke because of the company’s negligence in following the law.  That’s not enough. United Farm Workers President, Arturo S. Rodriguez, thinks criminal prosecution is the only way to deter companies so that no more will die:

This is a case of manslaughter – there is no difference between a driver killing someone while breaking our traffic laws and a labor contractor breaking the law and killing this beautiful young woman. Anything less than criminal prosecution is a desecration of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’ death.”

UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez

More, after the fold.  

(also in orange)

I’ve written about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez before.  For those unfamiliar with this tragedy, here are some links and a brief history.

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

Please Tell Fallen Farm Worker’s Family We Care

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.

It was Maria’s third day of work after arriving in California from Oaxaca, Mexico last February to make money to send to her mother, brothers and sisters in Mexico. Maria dedicated herself to helping her family.

She was laboring for a farm labor contractor, Merced Farm Labor Contracting, on a vineyard east of Stockton growing grapes for West Coast Grape Farming, a division of Bronco Wines, which is also part of Franzia vineyards.

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.

Remarks by UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez at Funeral Services for Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-Year Old Farm Worker Who Died Due to the Heat, quoted in “How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?”

The State of California recently announced that the contractor implicated in Maria’s death would receive the largest fine since the heat regulations were enacted in 2006:  

Atwater-based Merced Farm Labor, the contractor investigated in the death of Lodi teen Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez last spring, was fined $262,700 by the state Wednesday for failure to follow heat illness prevention regulations at the time Jimenez was stricken.

Jimenez, a 17-year-old pregnant farm laborer, collapsed May 14 in a Farmington vineyard operated by West Coast Grape Farming and died two days later. Her death from heatstroke was ruled an occupational death by the San Joaquin County coroner.

The fine to Merced Farm Labor is the largest an agriculture operation has received under heat regulations enacted in 2006 and championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. They require employers to provide adequate shade and water, employee and supervisor education on heat-related illnesses, rest periods and an emergency plan.

State fines labor firm over death

Video: Maria’s fiance Florentino Bautista talks about what happened on May 14.

And the pilgrimage to Sacremento.

In honor of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, the march from Lodi, CA to Sacramento State Capitol, June 4, 2008.

And it just keeps happenning. On July 13, 2008, I wrote about the fourth farm worker to die in the last few weeks:  

How many Farmworkers must die before someone cares??

Ramiro Carillo was the fourth farm worker in the last two weeks to die of heat stroke and the second this week alone!

Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez, 48, father of two, died in Selma, CA on Thursday afternoon after working all day for Sun Valley Packing in Reedley thru a farm labor contractor.  

snip

42 year-old farm worker Abdon Felix Garcia, father of three, died on Wednesday after spending the morning and early afternoon working for Sunview Vineyards in Arvin. The coroner says Felix’s body core temperature was measured at 108 degrees just 13 minutes before his death.

64 year-old Jose Macarena Hernandez died during a record-breaking heat wave on June 20 while harvesting butternut squash in Santa Maria on land owned by Sunrise Growers.

How many more must die?  Here’s a list of 13 Suspected Heat Related Farm Worker Deaths: July 2004-July 2008

Any death is too much. Adriana Maestas, on AlterNet, asks How Many More Workers Will We Let Die in the Fields This Summer?  How many will die?  As UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez said, “How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?”  Is it?  

For too long, the pursuit of profit in this nation was its highest value.  According to the State of California, the contractor was guilty of serious and willful violations of the law:

The citations issued Wednesday included three serious and willful citations, each with a $70,000 fine: failing to provide heat illness prevention training to employees; failing to provide heat illness prevention training to supervisors; and failing to provide prompt medical attention in the case of a serious injury in a remote location.

State fines labor firm over death

Maria died.  It was preventable.

Armando Elenes, a United Farm Workers organizer involved in seeking action against the contractor, said Wednesday that, “the bottom line for us, it’s a little too late, Maria should not have died.”

“To us, it’s obvious that the governor can’t enforce the laws,” he said. “That’s just our position.”

State fines labor firm over death

Please join the UFW in its call for justice for Maria:

This is a case of manslaughter – there is no difference between a driver killing someone while breaking our traffic laws and a labor contractor breaking the law and killing this beautiful young woman.

Anything less than criminal prosecution is a desecration of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’ death.”

As The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We should be outraged as Americans!  No more deaths.  We cannot be silent.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  We all need to act to prevent any more deaths and obtain justice for Maria.  

Maria’s life is worth as much as my own or my child’s life.  She deserved the full protection of the law while alive, but the law failed.  The law did not save her life, but there should be justice.  

Please sign up to receive emails from the United Farm Workers.  Donate if you can to help their organizing campaigns.  Help them fight for justice for Maria.  The UFW will not let this go.  We need to help them.

3 comments

    • TomP on July 25, 2008 at 5:13 pm
      Author

    all for justice.

  1. for keeping this issue in the forefront TomP!

    • TomP on July 26, 2008 at 12:18 am
      Author

    This story needs to be heard.  It’s so easy to ignore the pain of others, but it’s wrong.  We need to act, if only to retain our own humanity.  

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