Tag Archives: UFW

Bill to end shameful legacy of racism for farmworkers can go to CA governor this Labor Day weekend

As we we celebrate Labor Day weekend, please remember that some workers are still not entitled to the 8 hour work day that many of us take for granted.

It has been 74 years since farm workers and domestic workers were left out of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the landmark federal law setting minimum wages and overtime for nearly all American workers.

To win votes from Southern lawmakers back in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to exempt farm and domestic workers. Nearly all of those workers in the Southern U.S. then were African Americans. Today in California and across the country, most farm workers are Latinos.

The United Farm Workers is sponsoring AB 1313, by Assemblymember Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa), to provide overtime pay for farm workers after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. This bill passed the state Senate and will soon be on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Can you please send him an email today asking him to sign this vital bill?

The exclusion of farm workers from overtime after eight hours was wrong in 1938. It is wrong now. The time has come for it to end. Progress was made in 1976 when Gov Jerry Brown permitted California’s farm workers to receive overtime after 10 hours of work. But there is more to be done. California provides 80 percent of the nation’s fresh produce and as a result its agricultural laws set the standard for the nation. Tell Gov. Brown to end this shameful legacy of racism in California by signing AB 1313.

Bill to end shameful legacy of racism for farm workers can soon go to Calif. governor this Labor Day weekend

Farm Workers Need a Fair Shake

For a couple of years, Sen. Steinberg has been pushing a bill to allow farm workers to organize in a way that is actually feasible.  You see, the traditional method of organizing can be rather difficult over thousands of acres of corporate farm land. I’ve called it the California Employee Free Choice Act, but really it is more basic, and critical to these workers.

Well, fortunately, it was passed this week as SB 104 and will head to the Governor’s desk soon.  From the United Farm Workers (UFW):

Without this bill, farm workers will continue to face unbearable conditions and pressure. Many workers don’t have access to basic things like shade, water, heat training or even breaks during the hot summer days. And nothing will change. Wage and hour violations will continue. Overexposure to pesticides will go unchallenged. Sexual harassment will remain rampant and the health crises caused by a lack of sanitation and lax safety standards will continue to plague farm workers.

This is a big step forward for California, even as we move back in other areas.  In fact, you might have heard a few words from Chris Bowers at dKos about this issue in your inbox.  Please consider signing UFW’s petition to the Governor.  With farmworkers literally dying in the fields, they desperately need the strength offered by the union.

Tragic Death of Teen Farm Worker in 2008 Propels Uncle to Fight for Labor Rights

By Edgar Sanchez, Special to the UFW

Doroteo Jimenez, a Lodi farm worker, remains outraged over the death of his niece Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old farm laborer.

When Maria Isavel fainted from heat exhaustion on a farm east of Stockton on May 14, 2008, “no one made any effort to help her,” least of all her supervisors, who failed to dial 911, Jimenez said this week.

The delay in getting her to a hospital led to her death two days later, he said.

This May 16, the third anniversary of Maria Isavel’s tragic passing, the Assembly will vote on SB 104, the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act.   Jimenez will join hundreds of other farm workers at the Capitol, to advocate for the bill, amid a sea of colorful United Farm Worker signs.

Jimenez has picked crops for more than 20 years, but never at a union farm.

Yet he supports SB 104, stating, “I hope the governor signs this new law…so that farm workers will take advantage of it …”

Previously approved by the Senate, SB 104 would allow farm laborers to select unions through traditional polling place elections in the workplace, or through a new procedure away from the fields.  The new process, involving confidential state-issued ballots, would help workers avoid intimidation from anti-union bosses.

Jimenez began fighting for farm workers’ rights three years ago this month, “to ensure that no more farm workers die” the way Maria Isavel did.

For Maria Isavel and her uncle, May 14, 2008 dawned as just another day in the cycle of the fields.

“Both of us arrived together that day” at the Farmington vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming Inc., he said.  It was only her third day on the job, at the place where her uncle had toiled for three weeks.

Water-filled thermoses would be placed for the workers along the edges of their work areas.  But, on May 14, the thermoses were not delivered until after10 a.m., roughly four hours into her shift, Jimenez said.

As afternoon temperatures climbed into the mid-90s, Maria Isavel, who had also been without proper shade as she pruned vines, collapsed.  Her fiancé, Florentino Bautista, who is in his early 20s, was also on her work crew.

“If someone had dialed 911, an ambulance would have responded from the fire department, which is not too far away,” Jimenez said.

Instead, at the end of the work day, Maria Isavel was driven to her Lodi home, a trip that took an hour, Jimenez said. That evening, she was taken to a Lodi clinic, then to the nearby hospital where she died.

Her death was triggered by an accidental, work-related heatstroke, the San Joaquin County Coroner concluded.

Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, owner of the now-defunct Merced Farm Labor Contractors, and her brother, Elias Armenta, initially were charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of their employee, Maria Isavel.  According to the Associated Press, it was the nation’s first criminal case involving a farm worker’s heat-related death.

As part of a plea deal, Colunga pleaded guilty in San Joaquin County Superior Court to a misdemeanor count of failing to provide shade.  Armenta , the firm’s safety coordinator, pleaded guilty to a felony count of failing to follow safety regulations that resulted in death.

Both were sentenced to community service and probation.  Colunga was also fined $370, while her brother was fined $1,000.

“There was no justice for my niece,” Jimenez said, maintaining that the crime demanded prison time.

Jimenez was fired from the Farmington ranch a few days after his niece died. According to Jimenez, he had requested and given a day off to meet with the Deputy Chief of Staff of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The permanent supervisors told me I didn’t have a job any more,” he said, noting that by then, Merced Farm Labor was out of business, its license having been suspended by the state.

Jimenez currently works at a Napa vineyard.  “My boss has given me permission to be in Sacramento on May 16,” he said.

Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post

Coming to a Farm Near You: Steven Colbert?

That’s right, you heard me. Stephen Colbert has accepted the United Farm Workers’ creative challenge to Americans of all stripes to head out to the fields and try their hands at picking fruit, if they want their danged jobs back so badly.

The campaign details are over at TakeOurJobs.org, where would-be farmworkers get matched with struggling growers and immigrant trainers.

Watch Colbert’s segment and see UFW’s Arturo Rodriguez explain what the campaign is all about, as well as how to say “Yes We Can-wich” in Spanish. (You won’t want to miss that).

The Take Our Jobs campaign has received tons of media attention for the way it directly challenges the oft-repeated claim that immigrants are simply “taking American jobs” instead of contributing to and strengthening our economy and our food security.

A couple recent headlines: Colbert teams up with  UFW over immigration (AP), Farmers Tackle  Immigration Issues (Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal), Farmworkers to Colbert: Immigration worries? Work in fields (Dylan Smith, Tucson Sentinel).

It’s even spawned DIY-videos and tales of bloggers (like The Unapologetic Mexican) and journalists (like Teresa Puente) heading out to the fields to take on anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The Tucson Sentinel’s Dylan Smith writes:  

The “Take Our Jobs” site asks interested parties to supply their name and area code to streamline the hiring process. It cautions, however, that “duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all  weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically  demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50  lbs on a regular basis.”

According to Colbert, however, the excruciating summer heat and difficult conditions of farm work are no big deal:

“It was over 100 degrees this entire week  here. I did my show 22 minutes a night.”

Smith concludes:

“Somehow, undocumented workers are getting as much blame for our economic troubles as Wall Street, but missing from the immigration debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat at home, in restaurants and work-place cafeterias, including those in the Capitol, comes to us from the labor of undocumented workers,” Rodriguez told the Tribune. “According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of the  workers laboring are undocumented.”

We are not only a nation “in denial about our food supply,” as Rodriguez has famously quipped, but a nation in denial about who’s to blame for our current economic crisis, aside from vulnerable scapegoats. This has led us to set aside common-sense solutions to fixing our broken immigration system and pursue radical, dangerous ones, like Arizona’s SB 1070, which law  enforcement says destroy community safety and shift the focus away from fighting crime.

More to the point, though, how do I get a front-row ticket to see Colbert struggling in the fields? Can’t wait for part 2 of the Take Our Jobs challenge.

Note: Cross-posted at America’s Voice.  

Urge EPA to rethink toxic chemical after scientists say it can’t be managed

“Adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

-CA Scientific Review Committee

This is the time of year many talk about United Farm Workers’ founder Cesar Chavez. Cesar was many things, among them he was a strong voice on pesticides.  

PhotobucketCesar Chavez said, “In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners. Farm workers are society’s canaries. Farm workers-and their children-demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else…There is no acceptable level of exposure to any chemical that causes cancer. There can be no toleration of any toxic that causes miscarriages, still births, and deformed babies.”

As you celebrate his legacy, add your voice to continue Cesar’s fight.

Cesar’s UFW is currently working on a campaign that is critical for farm workers health and safety. We are working together with a coalition of environmental and farm worker groups to try to get the EPA to re-review the toxic pesticide methyl Iodide.  

Science has proven that methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, thyroid toxicant and carcinogen. In other words, it’s a toxic poison that should not be used near where people live.

Despite this, the Bush Administration’s EPA registered methyl iodide nationally in 2007–automatically permitting this toxin for use in a number of states. Other states like California have their own state regulations and are still deciding whether to allow it to be used.

However, there is finally hope to pull this toxic poison off the market. On September 25, 2009, U.S. EPA publicly agreed to reopen its decision on methyl iodide, pending results of the California Department of Pesticide’s Scientific Review Committee, comprised of scientists from across the country.

The Panel’s data is in.

Their report: this pesticide is toxic and harmful. “Adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

In addition their report raised serious questions about the scientific accuracy of the federal review that was done under the Bush Administration.

Difficult if not impossible to control–yet this carcinogenic chemical is being used in North Carolina, Florida and fields across the country right now.

This has to stop. Help us hold EPA to their promise to follow the science on methyl iodide. Sign the petition today!

Breaking News: UFW Endorses Senator Dean Florez in Lt. Governor Bid

Just minutes ago an endorsement that may well carry with it a huge advantage was made in the 2010 race for California Lt. Governor.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) was proud to receive today the endorsement of the United Farm workers AFL-CIO (UFW) in his race to be California’s next Lieutenant Governor.

The endorsement was announced by the UFW today at its complex at 40 Acres in Delano, California.  UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said,

Brave! That’s the word to describe Dean Florez. Farm workers have never had a braver, stronger, bolder friend than Dean Florez. We appreciate the support we get from progressives who get elected from progressive communities. But we admire people who support us when they represent areas where big agri-business calls all the shots. We admire Dean Florez. And if you care about farm workers, you will support him for Lt. Governor.”

Majority Leader has been long-time, staunch advocate for farm worker protections

In his decade in the California Legislature, Florez has successfully fought for many protections for those who toil in the California fields to provide the food we all rely on.

As an Assemblymember, Florez passed legislation requiring seatbelts and forward-facing seats in farm labor vehicles. This did away with the long-held but deadly practice of replacing manufacturers’ seating with parallel wooden benches that maximized capacity without regard for safety. The California Highway Patrol credited the change with a dramatic decrease in needless fatalities.

More recently, Senator Florez passed a measure to protect farm workers from pesticide drift, requiring counties to have emergency procedures in place and ensuring victims have access to proper medical care.

For several years now — since he held the eye-opening “Meeting in the Sun” — Florez has stayed on top of the Administration to ensure workplace heat regulations are in place and are enforced with regularity. The regulations call for basic measures such as access to shade and fresh water, to prevent the needless deaths seen each summer when Valley temperatures soar.

“Farm workers for too many years did not receive the same basic protections most of us take for granted. As a legislator with a personal understanding of this history, that status quo was unacceptable to me,” said Florez. “I am honored and humbled to be recognized for work which, to me, represents no more than the basic humanity we should all show toward each other.”

Help Protect Children From Toxic Pesticides

Luis Medellin and his three little sisters, aged 5, 9 and 12, live in the middle of an orange grove in Lindsay, CA–a small farming town in the Central Valley. pesticide driftDuring the growing season, Luis and his sisters are awakened several times a week by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What follows is worse: searing headaches, nausea, vomiting.

The Medellin family’s story is not unique. From apple orchards in Washington to potato fields in Florida, drifting poisonous pesticides plague the people who live nearby–posing a particular risk to the young children of the nation’s farm workers, many of whom live in industry housing at the field’s edge.

This situation also often exists in schools in agricultural areas where it’s not uncommon to have a school next to a field.

Nov. 7, 2009 – Salinas Californian:

Salinas Valley schools perched near pesticide-sprayed farmland

“When schools use pesticides on campus, they post a warning a day before. But when acres of farmland next to classrooms are sprayed with industrial-grade chemicals, often no sign goes up.”

Gonzales resident Aurora Valdez said she’s fearful pesticides sprayed near Gonzales High School, where her kids attend classes, will harm her teenage sons. She said she often prays to the Virgin of Guadalupe to keep her sons from experiencing what she said her husband, Francisco, went through 12 years ago after being exposed to pesticides. “I worry constantly about pesticides,” Valdez said.

That’s why the UFW, Earth Justice, Farm Worker Justice and a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the government to set safety standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful effects of pesticide drift–the toxic spray or vapor that travels from treated fields. We’re also asking officials to immediately adopt no-spray buffer zones around homes, schools, parks and daycare centers for the most dangerous and drift-prone pesticides.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the first step in addressing this problem–opening up the petition for public comment. It’s a promising sign.

Environmental News Service:

EPA Proposes Labeling to Control Pesticide Drift, Evaluates Petition

November 4, 2009 (ENS) – Pesticide labeling to reduce off-target spray and dust drift was proposed today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The new instructions are aimed at improving the clarity and consistency of pesticide labels and help prevent harm from spray drift, the toxic spray or vapor that travels from treated agricultural fields and into neighboring communities.

The agency is also requesting comment on a citizens’ petition to evaluate children’s exposure to pesticide drift.

The agency’s leadership needs to hear that you think they’re on the right track. Because they’ll surely be getting an earful from the pesticide industry telling them to keep the status quo. In fact, industry interests like Monsanto and CropLife have already started weighing in.

If we want EPA to do the right thing and put immediate pesticide buffers in place around homes, schools, daycare centers and playgrounds, we need to push back. Please help.

In the past, the EPA has not made this issue a priority–ignoring a law Congress passed that requires the agency to protect children from all exposures to pesticide, including pesticide drift. The agency is already three years overdue in setting safety standards that protect children from drift. But there is new hope with the Obama administration. Will you please send your e-mail today and add your voice to those calling for a change?

Thank you!    

Walmart’s smiley face isn’t smiling for Giumarra workers

Tell Walmart to stop its supplier Giumarra’s unlawful behavior

PhotobucketWalmart says it wants you to live better. But they apparently don’t feel the same way about the workers who pick the grapes and other produce they sell in their stores. They sell grapes and other produce from Giumarra’s Nature’s Partner label–despite knowing that this mega company abuses the grape workers who work in their vineyards.

Giumarra harvests approximately 1 out of every 10 bunches of grapes picked in the US. In addition they are a major label of imported and domestic produce. Combined with the market power of the Walmart behemoth, this huge conglomerate helps set the industry standard.  

PhotobucketHow does Giumarra abuse its workers? Here’s an example. California law says a person needs to make twice the minimum wage before they can be required to buy equipment necessary to do their job. Giumarra workers make minimum wage plus on a good day perhaps an additional $8 a day piece rate bonus. Giumarra knows this law, but does that keep them from violating it? Not according to many workers we’ve spoken to.

Farm worker Monica Martinez, who has worked at Giumarra for the last ten years, tells the story:

“The equipment–gloves and scissors for grapes and other items–we must buy ourselves without any type of reimbursement or compensation. In 2005, after the election, they gave us the equipment for a while and then they stopped. Now they only give it when they want to. There are times when we need gloves and no one provides them. Making us work without gloves ruins our hands.”

Enough is enough. Giumarra’s illegal behavior must be stopped.

As a key buyer of Giumarra’s imported and domestic produce–including grapes–Walmart has the ability to influence this produce giant. Please send Walmart an e-mail today and demand they exercise control over their suppliers by telling Giumarra/Nature’s Partner to demonstrate corporate responsibility.

Go to: http://www.ufwaction.org/campaign/walmart1009

Pregnant farm workers exposed to pesticide drift while harvesting organic onions


“I am very afraid because I do not know what tomorrow will bring because I am four months pregnant and I worry for my unborn baby. Three days later [after being exposed to pesticide drift], I am still vomiting and have a major headache. My pregnancy doctor could not see me as he was going to charge me and I did not have any money to pay him.”

   — Julia Rojas Sabino, Organic Onion Worker

Pesticide drift poisonings should be a thing of the past. Agribusiness knows pesticides are dangerous. Pesticide applicators know pesticides drift. Proper precautions should be taken by applicators. Every farm should make sure supervisors know what to do in a drift emergency. It’s simple. Right?


Tell that to Julia Rojads Sabino and the other farm workers who were exposed to pesticide drift on Friday, July 10, while harvesting onions in Tehachapi. Julia and another farm worker were pregnant (four and five months respectively).

The workers thought they were safe. After all, they were harvestingorganic onions. They weren’t dealing with pesticides, right?

However, the orchard next door wasn’t organic.

Julia and her crew arrived at the field. Julia noticed that to the side of her crew–approximately 60 meters away–there was a man ready to spray pesticides in the apple orchard in the next field.

Julia and the crew she was part of began working at 6am, at the same time they began spraying. They began to smell a very strong odor. Julia told us, “The smell became stronger and we spoke to the crew boss. He told us it was lime [sulfur] and after a while gave us masks for our mouths.” She said these masks did nothing to protect workers against the smell or the chemical.

Workers started sneezing and vomiting and their eyes began stinging. The crew boss called the supervisor and when he arrived ten minutes later they moved the workers to another location and told them to have lunch.

Julia told us, “My coworkers were vomiting and their eyes burning. I felt very dizzy and was vomiting and I tried drinking lots of water to see if it would go away.” It didn’t.

The fire department and ambulance arrived and the sickest workers–including Julia–were put in an enclosed area, stripped down and given a high pressure bath and taken to the county hospital. Julia told us all “they did an ultrasound and gave us a glass of cold water.”

Julia is worried about the effects these pesticides, Assail 70 WP (acemidiprid) and Fujimite 5EC (fenpryoximate), might have on her unborn baby or herself. Luckily she was past her 1st trimester, so the chance of birth defects is much lower.

The laws and regulations out there say an applicator should not spray pesticides in a way that creates a danger of contaminating other people.  The laws say the employer should have moved the workers out of harm’s way and ensured they were taken to the doctor immediately.

However, a lot of this is a matter of judgment. There are no set buffer zones or required communication between separate farms about planned spraying. (If it was the same farm, there is required notification for other workers expected to come within 1/4 mile of the sprayed area.)

This is wrong.
Tell the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to make sure the county issues stiff fines. But even more importantly these rules have to stop being just a matter of judgment. Established minimum buffer zones need to be set. Communication between farms needs to be a must, not a maybe.


TAKE ACTION: Chemical industry urges CA gov to ignore science & approve toxic pesticide methyl iodi


The highly toxic, mutagenic, new pesticide methyl iodide is currently being given a comprehensive review by the Department of Pesticide Regulations and the agency’s registration decision is pending advice from a panel of scientists convened specifically to review this chemical.

However, according to inside sources, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is being pressured by corporate interests to fast-track registration of this toxic pesticide–despite serious concerns from the state’s own scientists at the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

Take action:

“Methyl iodide is so toxic that scientists working with it in the laboratory take extreme precautions when handling it, using a ventilation hood, gloves, and special equipment for transferring it so it does not escape to the air,” notes Dr. Susan Kegley. “This degree of protection is not possible in an agricultural setting where the pesticide would be applied at rates of 175 pounds per acre in the open air. Buffer zones of 400 feet for a 40-acre fumigation would still result in a dose of methyl iodide to neighbors that is 375 times higher than DPR believes is acceptable. For workers, the numbers are much worse, with exposures estimated at 3,000 times higher than DPR’s acceptable dose for some tasks.”

Methyl iodide’s manufacturer, Arysta, withdrew its New York application for registration after state officials raised concerns about groundwater contamination and potential exposure for workers, bystanders and nearby residents–especially children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Now the industry is asking California’s governor to order DPR to fast track the registration of this deadly fumigant. This is not acceptable. Please take action and tell the Governor to keep methyl iodide of California’s fields.

Take action: