Sunday, June 21, 2009

The following story and appeal is from the United Farm Workers, and they are asking you to petition the California Legislature for legislation that actually does something to protect farm workers in that state who far too often suffer the 'ultimate penalty' of death due to heat stroke. The legislation that the UFW are asking for will make it easier for farm workers to organize and enforce the rules themselves, rules that that government agencies seem to be lax in applying.
New Cal-OSHA heat regs still won't work
Tomorrow(yesterday actually due to Molly's tardiness) we mourn the one year anniversary of Jose Macarena Hernandez’ death due to extreme heat. A veteran field worker, Jose died during record-breaking heat while harvesting squash in Santa Maria. Temperatures that day reached 110 degrees. Jose was found in the outhouse, his body blistered from the heat.

As we mark the one year anniversary of Jose's death, we must look at what Governor Schwarzenegger and the state of California have done to prevent more needless deaths. Unfortunately, it is very little.

Last week, Cal-OSHA admitted that its regulations do not adequately protect farm workers from the heat. Then, yesterday, they proposed revised regulations.

Unfortunately it’s just a mirage. In reality, the Schwarzenegger administration is still failing to take adequate action to protect farm workers—after finding that employers weren’t complying with its weak regulation, the state gave them a bit more to comply with, but did nothing to:
***increase employers’ incentives to comply
***give workers a means to enforce the law themselves(NB !!!!-Molly)
***strengthen Cal-OSHA’s well-documented shortcomings, such as its inability to identify noncompliance, its failure to verify whether a violation has been remedied, and its disappointing record on penalty collection.

The state's own reports highlight its poor record. Despite an extensive campaign to train employers, the number of identified cases of non compliance were more in two weeks this year than they were in all of last year.

The new proposed heat regulations are full of exceptions and won’t protect the workers.
The state's failure to protect farm workers from heat illness is just one of the reasons farm workers need a system to protect themselves. It's why SB789 is so vital. SB789, CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers (Steinberg), will make it easier for farm workers to organize and help enforce the laws that California's government hasn’t enforced. SB789 passed the California State Senate on April 23. It will next be heard in the State Assembly and then go to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Please take action today.
It's often useful to attach the real person to the abstract event. What do the actions of employers mean in terms of actual people ? Here is the story of the man Jose from the UFW site, and the legislation (or lack thereof) that condemned him to death.
Jose Macarena Hernandez
On June 20, 2008, sixty-four year-old Jose Macarena Hernandez died due to extreme heat, while harvesting squash in Santa Maria. He was working under 110-degree heat. He stopped to use the restroom and did not come out alive. Family members said Hernandez' body was blistered when it was discovered.

At a press conference before his funeral services, his niece, Maria Elena Curiel, expressed her frustration to a local TV station. "We have a lot of unanswered questions that no one has come forth. The employer has not contacted us to at least explain the situation, what was going on that day, was he not feeling well."

She went on to say, "We surely hope that he didn't suffer very long to the point where he was feeling all this going on with his body that he was cooking basically underneath this heat."
Examples of CA’s Flawed Enforcement and Farm Worker Protections:
Cal-OSHA does not have enough staff to protect farm workers:

* Cal-OSHA has only 187 safety and health compliance inspectors to inspect more than 1 million workplaces throughout the state and to protect some 17 million California workers, 650,000 of whom are farm workers. (The ratio would be impressive even if it were only farm workers-Molly)
Cal-OSHA under-inspects agricultural workplaces:
* In 2008, Cal-OSHA conducted only 750 agricultural inspections out of approximately 35,000 farms--many of whom use several labor contractors.
* Almost 40% of the farms inspected –289 companies– violated the Heat Illness Prevention regulation
Cal/OSHA does not verify whether violations it identifies have been fixed:
* Cal-OSHA spokesperson Dean Fryer recently admitted that it is “not unusual” for Cal-OSHA to fail to do return visits at companies where it has found violations to see if the violations were fixed.
Cal-OSHA regularly imposes no or absurdly low fines for violations of the heat regulations:
* Fines for heat violations that result in death average less than $10,000 and have even been as low as $250.
Cal-OSHA does not collect fines it imposes:
* In the much-publicized heat-related workplace death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez in 2008, Cal-OSHA had already fined the employer, Merced Farm Labor, $2,250 in 2006 for serious occupational safety violations, but never collected the fine. (Atrocious but not unexpected; as the UFW say, the only real "guarantee" is for workers to be able to enforce the regulations themselves-Molly)
Profile of employer abuse:
* Employer YNT Harvesting was cited in 2007 for two serious safety violations when worker Eladio Hernandez died after picking peaches at the company, and was assessed $25,310 in penalties* After a settlement, Cal/OSHA deleted a serious violation and reduced the penalty to $7,310* Cal-OSHA cited YNT Harvesting again in August 2008
* YNT Harvesting has yet to pay any of its penalties.
Here is the letter that the United Farm Workers would like you to send to the California State Assembly and the Governor of California.
Dear Decision Maker,
California's 650,000 farm workers routinely toil in hard working conditions. They work long days in temperatures that regularly exceed 100 degrees all summer long. These workers are entitled to protection from workplace injury and death. California's heat regulations-including the new proposed regulations that you issued yesterday-- just don't do it.

I'm disappointed to see that the State of California has taken inadequate action to protect its workers. After finding that employers weren't complying with its weak regulation, the state gave them a bit more to comply with--but took no further action to take care of vital issues such as: increasing employers' incentives to comply, giving workers a means to enforce the law themselves, and fixing Cal-OSHA?s well-documented shortcomings--such as its inability to identify noncompliance, its failure to verify whether a violation has been remedied, and its' disappointing record on penalty collection.

The Schwarzenegger administration had repeatedly said that they would do something to protect farm workers. Despite these promises, employers continue to flout the law, without effective penalty.Eleven farm workers have suffered heat-related deaths since 2005, when California enacted its first emergency Heat Illness Prevention Regulation--six farm workers died last summer alone. Employers with as many as six heat regulation citations in three years are still not been considered repeat violators. Employers routinely avoid paying fines because the state fails to check to see whether the fines have been paid. Fines imposed, even in instances of worker heat-related death, have been as low as $250.

This must stop now--farm workers need tools with which to protect themselves.Please support SB789, CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers (Steinberg), which has passed the Senate and will next be heard in the Assembly. This important bill will make it easier for farm workers to organize and enforce the laws that California's government is not enforcing.

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