From ReignOfTerroir.com, “Farm Worker Justice, Fresno State’s Day of Action,” by Ken Payton, 3 Mar 2011.
In 2005 then-California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger signed new farm worker legislation which required “employers to provide workers with four cups of water per hour, shaded resting areas, paid break periods of at least 5 minutes, safety training and an emergency plan.”
Is this too much to ask? Apparently it is. For in May of 2008, 17 year-old farm laborer Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died of heatstroke. Her first job, and only her third day as a California farm laborer, she was training wine grape vines in a blistering Farmington vineyard when she collapsed after a 9 hour shift, her temperature spiking at 108. But no assistance was offered on site by the employees of labor contractor Merced Farm Labor. In fact, still quoting from a contemporaneous Decanter report her fiancée, Flaurentino Bautista, “told officials that the supervisors did not call for medical help after Jimenez collapsed, didn’t offer her water or shade, and later told him to lie to hospital staff about his fiancee’s age and whom she was working for.”
She was two months pregnant.
From an article written in 2009, the author Dana Goodyear writes,
“The State of California cited the labor contractor that had hired Jimenez, Merced Farm Labor, for a number of violations, including failure to provide accessible drinking water and shade, and fined its owner a record $262,700. [….] In late April, the San Joaquin County district attorney submitted a criminal complaint against the owner of Merced Farm Labor and two of her employees, for involuntary manslaughter.”
The wheels of justice move slowly. Here they appear to be altogether skidding down an icy slope, for as the Sacramento Bee reported on January 21st, 2011, the district attorney decided, and without prior notification of Maria Isabel’s family, that a plea bargain would instead be submitted. Defendants Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and Elias Armenta – the third defendant, Raul Martinez is believed to have fled to Mexico – will plead no contest lesser charges in exchange for community service, probation, and a $1000 fine.
“Their lawyer and prosecutors said Thursday they had reached an agreement for the pair to plea to lesser charges in early March, when the case is next set to go before San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Michael Garrigan.
‘There will be some guilty pleas, but the consequences will be bearable,’ defense attorney Randy Thomas said. ‘Enough time has elapsed and everyone needs to move along with their lives. My clients are very, very nice people and very remorseful.’” Sacto Bee op cit.