LatinaLista — It’s being called the “Black Summer” in the San Joaquin Valley of California these days.
San Joaquin Valley farm workers spread out to pick the season’s harvest of carrots.
Because last Thursday yet another farm worker died of heat stroke.
Jorge Herrera, 37, of Delano, California died almost four weeks after collapsing at the Vignolo Vinyards loading table grapes. He leaves behind a wife, two children and colleagues who are fed up burying their friends for an illness that can easily be avoided — if the government cared to do something.
According to Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, Herrera is the fifth farmworker to die in just under three months. He was originally from El Triunfo, Michoacan, Mexico.
His death follows the premature death of 17-year-old farmworker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. She died for two simple reasons: not enough water and no shade.
During a time when the legacy of Cesar Chavez is being celebrated across the nation with streets and schools named in his honor, a stamp issued in his likeness and talk of a nation-wide holiday in his memory, the deaths of Herrerra and Jimenez and the other farm workers underscore the fact that Chavez’ work is far from completed. Farm workers are still being abused in the fields and the system is still ignoring them.
The sad part of each of these deaths is that they were preventable if only it was enforced that orchard owners and farmers had to make sure to supply enough water breaks, shade and rest to their workers without them fearing some sort of retaliatory penalty.
Maria Isabel Jimenez was only 17 years old when she died of heat stroke while working in the grape fields.
And in the case of Maria Jimenez, once a worker goes down, help should be immediately sought instead of waiting for two hours like was done with Jimenez.
Maria Isabel had worked nine hours in temperatures that reached 100 degrees inside the vineyard. Her body temperature was 108.4 degrees when she was finally taken to a hospital nearly two hours after collapsing. She died on May 16.
The outrage about this young girl’s death is that only a $262,700 fine was levied against those in charge of employing Jimenez and not criminal charges.
Sadly, even with these deaths, new stories of workers being misled, taken advantage of, forced to live in squalor conditions, deprived of sufficient water, breaks and shade, exposed to lethal pesticides and dangerous equipment are heard every week.
According to a LA Times story:
Workers’ compensation statistics show that farmworkers suffer from heat illness in higher numbers than any other occupational group except firefighters. But unlike farmworkers, few firefighters die of heatstroke. Perhaps it’s the greater access to drinking water and rest breaks that save the lives of firefighters. Perhaps it’s better emergency preparedness and access to first aid. Or maybe it has to do with the value that society places on the lives of people who fight fires as opposed to the lives of those who harvest the nation’s food.
It’s ironic that we are so conscientious in not dealing with factories overseas that employ child labor or subject their workers to sweatshop conditions but we say absolutely nada about boycotting those growers’ produce who run their fields like those factories we so diligently avoid.
While these deaths happened in California, the truth is the blame lies on the entire nation for not having national measures in place that heavily penalize and, when warranted, prosecute those farmers who don’t provide basic housing, food, water, shade and medical attention for their workers.
In a clear example of immigrants doing the work that U.S. workers won’t do, it’s been proven that no one, who can help it, wants to work in these harsh conditions. So, instead of turning our backs on these farm workers because they’re immigrants, this is just one example where we better start showing our appreciation for their hard labor because when they decide they’ve had enough, we’re going to be feeling the “pangs” of their absence.