Farmworkers Sue California Over Heat-Related Death and Illness

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650,000 farm workers face a daily risk of death and illness from toiling in stifling summer heat. Six died last year and fifteen farm workers have died of heat-related complications since July 2004.

The United Farmworkers Unions and ACLU have filed a lawsuit against the state and its Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) for failing to live up to their constitutional and statutory duties to protect the safety of farm workers.  See NY Times: Farm Workers’ Union Sues California Agency Over Rules on Heat Safety

“If hundreds of thousands of white-collar employees had to work under dangerous and life-threatening conditions, the state would almost certainly take immediate action to protect their health and safety,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Low-income farm workers, who are overwhelmingly Latino, deserve no less.”

The people who feed us should not fear death when they go to work

UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez

More, after the fold.

(Also on dkos:… )

At 3:40 p.m. on May 14, Maria became dizzy.


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.


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.

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

Heat kills teen migrant farmworker

Farm workers are literally dying because of the state’s broken system, which is designed in a way that ensures underenforcement of the law,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. “The state’s system is so full of loopholes that compliance is effectively optional, and employers flout the law with impunity.”

Last year the agency conducted only 750 inspections among approximately 35,000 farms statewide – and found that nearly 40 percent had violated mandatory heat safety regulations.

Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Legal Director, ACLU of Southern California:

“the men and women who bring food to our tables are continuing to risk their lives and suffer hospitalization this summer because their employers deny them the water and shade they so desperately need”

The real problem is that regulations have had little effect because of lax enforcement.  People have continued to die.  

There’s nothing to scare the bejesus out of these employers to get them to treat farmworkers like human beings,” said UFW president Arturo Rodriguez.

Fresno Bee

Here’s what you can do to help.

Request from Alma Felix on the anniversary of the heat death of her uncle

It’s very rare that I pick up my parents’ home phone…but on this particular day that the phone kept ringing. I picked it up. On the other end was my uncle Raudel whom we had not spoken to in years.  

He asked to speak to my mom and after talking to him for a couple of minutes he broke the news to me about my uncle Audon being in the hospital. A minute later he confessed my uncle had just passed.  

How could I tell my mom that one of her baby brother had just passed?


I have made it now my personal mission to educate those who I cross paths with because I have learned that by educating/informing one person I have reached five!

The UFW is working on a bill that would give farm workers like my uncle a voice in the fields. It could help stop more preventable heat deaths like my uncle’s so other families don’t have to suffer like ours.


The Governor has talked a lot about how he cares about this issue, but his actions have not shown it. Farm workers like my uncle are dying due to heat. Violations of safety laws–like water and shade–in the fields occur way too much. It has to change. I can’t bear the thought of more families dealing with what we had to.

Please help. Send the CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger an e-mail today and tell them to pass this bill.

Send the message here

You can learn more details about this continuing tragedy in this diary and the links therein to other diaries I wrote last year:

Yesterday we mourned, Today we act, Tomorrow we will gain justice. Sí se puede!


    • TomP on August 7, 2009 at 15:35
    • TomP on August 7, 2009 at 20:32

    This means a lot to me.  It really helps.  

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