On Tuesday, July 28th, about 200 farm worker supporters, including members of clergy from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions gathered at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market to raise awareness about the 15 heat-related deaths in the fields of California since 2004. The vigil was held on the 5-year anniversary of the death of Asuncion Valdivia, the first of the fifteen to pass away who died while he was picking grapes for Guimarra Vineyards. Virginia Nesmith, NFWM director, welcomed the crowd to the vigil, sponsored by NFWM and the UFW. Arturo Rodriguez, UFW spoke as well as farm workers, clergy and several politicians.
Two days later, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) affiliates of Southern California and San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, filed a landmark 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. Click here for more information.
Fifteen farm workers have died heat-related deaths since 2004. The law requires… water – shade – rest breaks – training. But the laws on the books are NOT the laws in the fields.
HELP US TO HONOR THE LIVES OF THESE 15 FARM WORKERS AND SPEAK OUT FOR JUSTICE.
WHAT: Interfaith Vigil and Action
WHEN: Tuesday, JULY 28TH 12:00pm
WHERE: Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market
On Olympic Blvd., one block west of Alameda St.
(corner of Olympic and McGarry St.)
For more information,please contact:(323) 893-9605
This summer the National Farm Worker Ministry in California and the United Farm Workers will be holding prayer vigils to remember and honor the lives of 15 farm workers who have died since 2004 due to heat-related illness. We believe that these deaths were preventable and that by only speaking out with a collective voice can we help prevent future deaths. Vigils will be held on the anniversaries of each of the workers’ deaths, beginning May 9th and ending August 2nd. Please join us for these vigils if you live in the area (see calendar below). They will be held at the Los Angeles produce market on Olympic Blvd., one block west of Alameda St. For more information please contact Lucy Boutte (firstname.lastname@example.org, (951)634-8817) or Christy Lafferty (email@example.com, (323)893-9605).
Heat Vigils 2009 – In Memory Of:
May 9th, 2007– Eladio Hernandez
May 16th, 2008 – Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez
June 20th, 2008 – Jose Macarena Hernandez
July 9th, 2008 – Audon Felix Garcia
July 10th, 2008 – Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez
July 13th, 2005 – Salud Zamudio Rodriguez
July 14th, 2005 – Ramon Hernandez
July 21st, 2005 – Augustine Gudiño
July 25th, 2006 – Richard Helmuth
July 26th, 2006 – David Vraggs, Rodolfo Valladares
July 28th, 2004 – Asuncion Valdivia
July 31st, 2005 – Constantino Cruz Hernandez
July 31st, 2008 – Jorge Herrera
August 2nd, 2008 – Maria de Jesus Alvarez
California is by far the state with the largest number of farm workers in the U.S. who perform a variety of jobs on the state’s over 80,000 farms. Exact data for the number of farm workers living and working in California is almost impossible to find because of many factors such as the seasonality and migratory nature of farm work, the geographic distance between farm worker communities, and the large number of farms. However, several estimates from studies done in California put the number of farm workers in California at a range from about 400,000 to 1.1 million during certain parts of the year. (National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), 2005; The Migrant and Seasonal Enumeration Study by the Bureau of Primary Care’s Migrant Health Program) About 20% of the total number of farm workers in California are employed consistently year round, while the rest only have seasonal work or are unsure whether they are employed year-round or seasonally. According to the most recent NAWS report for California, about 75% of all individual farm workers and 52% of all farm worker families made less than $15,000 a year in 2003-2004. Furthermore, 43% of all individual farm workers and 30% of all farm worker families made less than $10,000 a year.
In California in 2007, the market value of all crops produced on California farms was over $22 billion. (2007 Census of Agriculture)
The top 5 counties in California in which farm workers live and work are Fresno, Monterey, Kern, Tulare, and Ventura counties. (See map for location.) About 86% of farm workers are employed in fruit, nuts, and vegetable production.
When it comes to working in the fields, farm workers are extremely exploited. The United Farm Workers union has documented many stories of the lives of farm workers and some of the most inhumane treatment and conditions they labor under in California. Some of their most basic of needs that by law must be provided to them by their employers (clean and sufficient drinking water on the job, clean bathrooms, shade from the heat) are not. While their jobs in many cases do not provide health insurance, they are very susceptible to serious health problems because of exposure to pesticides. Farm worker women are often abused my their employers whether verbally or sexually. And the smallest of complaints about working conditions or behaviors even as simple as taking longer than the foreman thought they should in the bathroom can cause them to lose their job.
In California’s Central Valley during the harvest months of summer (May-August), farm workers must work in dangerously hot weather, with temperatures sometimes rising to over 100 degrees. They may work 10-12 hours a day. Very often farm workers are not provided with enough water, shade, or breaks during the work day and are thus very susceptible to heat stroke. Since 2004, 15 farm workers have died of heat-related illness in California. Last year alone, 6 farm workers died. In 2008, a short documentary, titled “California’s Harvest of Shame”, was made which documents this harsh reality for California’s farm workers. Narrated by Fabian Nuñez, former Speaker of the California State Assembly and son of a migrant farm worker himself, you can watch the video by clicking here.
Heatstroke caused seven confirmed deaths and more than 60 worker injuries this year, despite tougher regulations enacted in 2006 with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strong backing. Many of the injured required emergency evacuation and hospitalization. More than half of the injured were agricultural laborers, as were four of the seven deaths.
Last summer, 6 farm workers died heat-related deaths in the fields of California. These workers’ death should have been prevented. There are regulations in place in California that guarantee farm workers shade, water, breaks when necessary, and training for foreman and themselves on how to deal with heat stroke. But the death of workers in the fields is evidence that the regulations are not being enforced by the State and are being ignored by employers.
On March 17th, 2009, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA), announced a that a series of seminars will take place this spring around the state to train employers on how to prevent heat illness. But training is not enough. Take action now to demand there be enforcement of the regulations this summer to prevent future deaths!