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 hereStay informed and stay active!
-Jeremy Pearson

Today, it was unseasonably warm in our city of Boston.  70 degrees, on March 18th.  I am told that this time last year daffodils were struggling to push their buds up through heavy layers of snow.  But it feels great, and brings to mind all the awesome produce that will soon be grown around us, and heading our way from points beyond.  Yes, it is always preferable to grow your own food and purchase  from local farmers.  But here in Massachusetts, not all edibles are grown, even in spring and summer. Like most parts of the country, much of the produce we consume comes from the breadbasket of California, where wide fertile lands and appropriate climate conditions allow the wealth of farm activity we know it to have.

But as the days warm into Summer and the produce begins flowing in, keep California in mind, specifically the conditions on the ground, as it were.  For, year after year, farm workers have been suffering unbearable conditions under the hot sun, some of them dying, mostly due to a complete lack of competence and care for safety on the part of companies and the State.

The regulations which ensure the safe working conditions of farm-workers in California are enforced by its Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA), which has recently been taken to trial by the ACLU for failing to live up to its standards.  The workers in question provide 90 percent of the labor in California’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry, and are routinely deprived of water, shade and rest, having to work outdoors in temperatures that commonly top 100 degrees F! This lawsuit is considered a landmark in that it is focused and comprehensive; California passed a law in 2005 to protect farm-workers from heat illness and death, and yet, according to the LA Times, at least ten individuals have lost their lives since, harvesting the produce that conveniently appears on our cool, climate-controlled grocery shelves.

The situations in which these people die are sad and, due to the need of income for often impoverished families, desperate.  In 2008, one man, Audon Felix Garcia of Bakersfield was found slumped over in his truck with a core body temperature of 108 degrees.  It is elsewhere reported that Garcia had been working on a day with a high of 112 degrees F, and had 15 years of fieldwork experience.  Even more tragic was the death of Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, only 17 at the time, who according to Time magazine, died after picking grapes for nine hours straight in 95-degree heat.    Perhaps one of the most surprising numbers is the staggering fact that out of roughly 35,000 farms in California, only 750 inspections were conducted by Cal/OSHA in a year, as of two summers ago.  There is no real way of telling how may abuses, both lethal and non, have occurred on farms statewide in the grueling summer months; only the stories of the workers themselves would do justice, if they had more means to be heard.

There is more that you can do beyond paying attention to your consumer habits at the market.  A good place to start would be with the United Farm Workers.  One of the main campaign focuses of the UFW, America’s largest farm worker union, founded by Cesar Chavez (whose birthday and California State holiday in his name is celebrated in a few weeks on March 31st) in 1962, is promoting the awareness of heat-related injuries and deaths of employees on company-owned farms.  They stand behind the ACLU lawsuit and are a strong voice of testimony and non-violent action in establishing the right to a safe agricultural workplace. You can easily sign petitions for the movement on their site which get sent to relevant politicians and manufacturers, as well as keep abreast of the issue and see how your own voice of protest affects the lives of those who work extremely hard hand-selecting the fruits and veggies that end up on your plate.

-Jeremy Pearson

With the economic collapse and major corporations declaring bankruptcy this year’s May Day is of utmost importance. This day is meant to celebrate the Workers Rights that have been gained in the past as well as to promote current rights. For a history of May Day, check out our post from last year. Of course with all the transition occurring in our economic system, today should be celebrated with all seriousness. We need to be cautious, to not forget the workers in this upheaval. And as we speak the Chrysler corporation has filed for bankruptcy, causing alarm to union workers and their rights they have worked so hard to gain. But workers are continuing to fight back! For instance Rite Aid recently was shown to have violated several labor laws including union busting and the workers along with Jobs with Justice are currently trying to end this fight. And as we deal with immigration issues, let us not ignore the struggles of the farm workers, especially in California.

But as we ponder our own economic collapse and workers strife, many workers off our shores are struggling just as much if not more. Workers across Canada, France, and Eastern Europe are demanding protection from these economic woes.  Outsourced sweatshops and poor working conditions still plague many developing countries. And the workers in these situations continue to fight against the abuses. So today, as we celebrate, what should be our Labor Day (we all know how Americans love to turn every holiday into a drinkfest) keep these movements in mind. Because although we have come a long way, there is still plenty more to accomplish!

And if you want to get involved in such movements, consider joining or donating to some of the Workers movement groups such as United Farm Workers, Immigrant Solidarity, Transfair and Jobs with Justice. Also put your money where your ideals are, make sure you either Shop Union or Fair Trade.  Also, check out  Green America’s Guide to Ending Sweatshops. And most of all, be up to date on the movement. Currently Jobs with Justice and other labor groups are backing the Employee Free Choice Act and do not forget to sign the petition to have this act officially passed.

Today as we enjoy the warmth of spring and the beautiful flowers, do not forget our laborers and workers. Because this is their day and they are the foundation of any society. So we say thank you to all workers and solidarity!

  • Twitter: @autonomie

    Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

  • Facebook

  • Topics

  • April 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    282930  
  • Archives

  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 45 other followers