We need to share some very disappointing news with you and then ask you to e-mail Gov. Schwarzenegger and let him know how you feel. Last week, the Governor vetoed AB 2386, a vital bill to reform secret ballot elections for farm workers. With this single stroke of his pen, the governor denied farm workers the tool they need to protect themselves. While we are disappointed with the Governor's veto, sadly we are not surprised.
When the governor vetoed a bill with similar goals last year, his veto message said:
"I am directing my Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work with the proponents of this bill to ensure that all labor laws and regulations are being vigorously enforced, and to make it absolutely clear to all concerned that my veto is premised on an expectation that agricultural workers receive the full protections of the law."
Tragically this has not happened. During the black summer of 2008, as many as six farm workers died due to heat-related causes.
Governor Schwarzenegger's enforcement has not saved lives. And his administration has not "rigorously enforced" the law. In May of this year, 17-year old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died of heat illness, working for Merced Farm Labor. The Associated Press reported that the state ignored collecting the fine on Merced Farm Labor for not complying with heat regulations back in 2006.
Associated Press - 5/29/08
A division official said Jimenez's employer, Merced Farm Labor, had been issued three citations in 2006 for exposing workers to heat stroke, failing to train workers on heat stress prevention and not installing toilets at the work site.
The Atwater company has not paid the $2,250 it owes in fines, said agency spokesman Dean Fryer.
Sacramento Bee - May 30, 2008Consequently, young Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died while working at a company that provided no shade, did not have adequate water, and had no emergency plan in place. All due to the same type of negligence Cal-OSHA had fined the same company for in 2006.
The labor contractor that employed a teenage farmworker who died after working hours in a hot vineyard was cited in 2006 for failing to provide employees with training to avoid heat stress, Cal-OSHA records show.
California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health also cited Merced Farm Labor contracting services in 2006 for not having an injury-prevention plan for its workers or enough toilets for them to use, agency spokesman Dean Fryer said Thursday.
The company was fined $750 for each of the violations and was told to fix them by December 2006.
Company representatives told Cal-OSHA it had corrected the problems, and staff members "felt comfortable the abatement was done and didn't make an actual field visit," Fryer said. "That's not unusual. Usually, we get great cooperation from employers."
After Maria Isabel's death, the Governor boasted that enforcement was at its highest level. Yet sadly, the lives of five more farm workers were lost this past summer.
In last week's veto message, the Governor says he can enforce the laws.
As I indicated last year in my veto of SB 180, I remain committed to ensuring that agricultural workers receive all the workplace protections that our labor laws afford. To that end, I am calling for the creation of a dedicated funding source to facilitate enhanced oversight and education in the agricultural industry. I am directing my Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work with the proponents of this bill and all stakeholders to develop a proposal which will create such a program in a fiscally responsible way, for the ultimate benefit of both agricultural employees and employers.Gov. Schwarzenegger words ring hollow after he promised simular things in his veto message last year and still as many as six farm workers died due to heat-related causes.
The support of poor farm workers means so much less to him than the support of big money agricultural interests. We also know that had it not been for the Governor's fundraising agenda, or had we been a rich organization the Governor may have been willing to sign a bill for farm workers.