About a year ago to the day, the AP blog posted an article concerning California farmworkers and the hellish conditions in which they are made to work. The very fact that the body of the population is largely composed of migrant and/or immigrant labor, including many who do not speak English and are undocumented, means it is at a supreme disadvantage when attempting to establish the right to a safe working environment, as a whole or individually. There is little these people can do, and the neglect they suffer can at times lead to a tragic death.
Such was the case in 2008 with Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old woman, two months pregnant, who was made to prune grapes in San Joaquin County for nine hours in triple-digit heat without adequate shade, water or rest breaks.
A few weeks ago, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and Elias Armenta, the two farm supervisors most-directly responsible for this gross abuse of labor decency and originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, reached a softened plea bargain. Colunga was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, three years of probation and a fine of $370, and Armenta to 480 hours of community service, five years of probation and a $1,000 fine. Both were also banned from engaging in farm worker contracting.
Some might argue this outcome to be bittersweet, but easy on the sugar. While this prosecution is a small but progressive step toward justice in an industry that, until recently, was left to set it’s own rules and labor standards with miniscule regulation or consequence, common sense suggests that the death of this young woman and her unborn child in such an environment would call for much harsher punishment, including serious jail time, something that might scare other labor companies into doing right by their workforce. Hopefully such changes won’t require more innocent deaths.
You can read more about this issue here, and review last year’s AP farm labor article here. Stay informed and stay active!