Extreme Heat for California Farmworkers
As a result of high temperatures, agricultural workers are seeking laws to protect their rights
California farmworkers continued to work in extreme temperatures during this year of record-breaking heat waves. And while Governor Gavin Newson recently signed AB 2183, legislation expanding union rights for farmworkers, there are still no similar protections in the form of a safety law. Advocates warn, if no safety law is enacted, this will be a prelude to a much more adverse health situation.
According to official data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 702 heat-related deaths each year in the United States. The most affected by these deaths are agricultural laborers, being up to twenty times more likely to die than other workers. In fact, between 1992 and 2017, about 815 farm employees died from heat exposure, and more than 70,000 were injured. Specifically, in California, nearly 50 workers have died in the last 10 years.
In addition, the predictions on future weather conditions are showing that temperatures will only increase. The environmental systems expert at the University of California, Ángel Santiago Fernández-Bou, has corroborated that climate change will have a negative impact.
The researcher has indicated that farmers could endure very high temperatures for several months in the future, especially in the San Joaquin Valley area. “Historically in the valley, there have been four or five days of extreme heat, and the projection is that by the end of the century there will be 15 times more. There will be two months of extreme heat,” stated Fernández-Bou.
California, the Only State in the US with Heat Prevention Measures
The first heat stress prevention measure in the US was initiated in California, in 2005. Not only was it the first state to implement it, but today it is also the only one nationwide.
The death of Asunción Valdivia in 2004 led to the creation of this regulation. The laborer died in the San Joaquín Valley from heat stroke after 10 hours spent picking grapes in 105-degree weather. The ambulance could not come because no one was able to provide the location. This measure requires companies to provide water and shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees.
This tragic death has also given a new federal proposal its name. The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act seeks to protect workers from extreme temperatures. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is attempting to implement it, there is little hope that it will happen soon. It takes seven years on average to adopt new standards.
AB 2183, the Bill Long Desired by California’s Farmworkers, becomes Law
Although California farmworkers are the only ones in the country to have protections in place, they don’t seem to be enough. The reason? San Joaquin Valley. Also called “the food basket of the world,” this vast agricultural region is a major source of food supplies for the country. Here, thousands of agricultural workers labor every day in high temperatures.
The need for these farmers to have laws to protect them prompted the United Farm Workers to propose a bill that Newsom signed into law on September 28, 2022. AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, makes it easier to vote in union elections, improves working conditions, increases wages, or reduces intimidation by their employers, among other benefits.
To raise awareness and convince Gov. Gavin Newsom, the UFW proposed a 24-day, 335-mile march in which Union President Teresa Romero and 50 marchers walked from the Central Valley to the Capitol. On Aug. 26, they arrived in Sacramento and camped outside.
They stood a 24-hour vigil for over three weeks to demand Newsom’s signature on the bill.
Although the agricultural industry strongly opposed the proposal, the governor had the final say. Initially, Newsom did not seem to be entirely convinced, as the bill languished on his desk. He previously vetoed similar legislation last year.
President Joe Biden lent a hand to the farm laborers by backing the bill earlier this month. “Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic. We owe them an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union,” he said.
In the end, Newsom signed AB 2183, in a major victory for farmworkers in California.
Insufficient Laws Cause Deaths, Especially in California
Passing federal and state legislation to prevent heat stroke deaths is essential for farmworkers, mainly in California. Especially after hearing the warnings from environmental experts about the extreme heat that is to come.
An investigation published last year showed devastating data on the effects of heat on farmworkers. The collaboration of Columbia Journalism Investigations, NPR, KPCC, and The California Newsroom prompted a question: Why aren’t there fair laws for agricultural laborers?
Although OSHA indicated that heat-related deaths and illnesses appeared to be decreasing, the numbers in the study prove otherwise. The information was so eye-opening that it prompted Asuncion Valdivia’s bill. Days after the publication of the real number of deaths from heat stroke, OHSA got down to work.
The research reflects that the lack of safety measures and laws causes these deaths. The absence of breaks during long working hours, not having access to enough water or intense physical labor are among the main causes.
The investigation blamed OSHA California for many of the deaths, mainly in the San Joaquin Valley. Why does the state not penalize companies for farmworker deaths? Why are there no follow-ups after a worker’s death after sun exposure? Does the agency not verify that companies are meeting the standards? Why are deaths not recorded?
Latinos, the Most Affected
Official data indicates that up to 73% of agricultural workers are immigrants, 36% of whom are undocumented. Likewise, the numbers reveal that Latinos are the workers who suffered the most deaths from high temperatures. Since 2010, California’s Latino farmworkers account for one-third of heat-related deaths. Many Latino workers in heat-vulnerable jobs, such as agriculture or construction, seem to be the reason for the high number.
What Organizations and Associations Support California Farmworkers’ Rights?
As a result of the unjust situations in recent years and in the absence of federal and state regulations, numerous groups have been created for the benefit of farmworkers. The goal is to fight for safe working conditions and improve rights. Organizations such as United Farm Workers, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are some of the most important.
Affected by Heat Stroke at Work? We Can Help
As federal and state laws continue to be created and accepted, workers must find ways to protect themselves. Working in extreme heat conditions can lead to devastating illnesses or even death.
Agricultural companies are notorious for taking advantage of their employees. Lack of water or few breaks cause one’s health to go through extreme health hazards. This, however, must stop. It’s time to say enough is enough. It’s time to have your case heard.
There is a serious concern in the United States about the high death rate of California farmworkers. If you, someone in your family, or someone you know has been affected at work by the high temperatures, let us lend a hand.
At Adamson Ahdoot, we can help you get the financial compensation you deserve. With over 100 years of combined legal experience, our team is ready to win any legal battle.
If you are a California farmworker who does not want to put up with lousy conditions that put your health at risk, call us today at (800) 310-1606. Contact us for an initial evaluation. We will not charge anything until we win your case.
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