California approves bill allowing farm workers to enforce heat regulations
The California Senate approved a bill allowing farm workers to sue employers who repeatedly fail to comply with mandatory shade and drinking water requirements as spelled out under the state’s labor law.
Since California issued the first heat regulation in the nation to prevent farm workers from dying of extreme heat in 2005, 16 farm workers have died from heat related illnesses. The deaths of two farm workers this summer are being investigated by Cal-OSHA, the state safety regulators.
AB 2346 – the Farm Worker Safety Act by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Los Angeles) – passed with a 21-12 vote. Once enacted, the law empowers farm workers to enforce the state’s heat standards by suing employers who repeatedly violate the law.
The measure, supported by the United Farm Workers, would also make growers and the farm labor contractors they hire jointly liable if contractors fail to supply farm workers with shade and water when temperatures soar.
"Too many farm workers are dying due to the simple fact that too many agricultural employers are not providing the basic protections of water and shade," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said.
"All of these deaths were preventable. It is clear that the regulation is not being enforced. Unfortunately, with over 81,500 farms and about 450,000 farm workers working under a corrupt farm labor contractor system, it is not possible for the state to enforce the heat illness law by itself. That's why farm workers want the right to enforce the law themselves," Rodriguez added.
The bill is scheduled to return to the California Assembly for a final vote this week.
By Maria Machuca - United Farm Workers of America