Tag Archives: Change To Win

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.


This Water is for Display Only

(The California EFCA would provide easier access to unions for farmworkers. It will pass out of the legislature, the question is whether Arnold will sign it. He should. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Another Reason for the California Employee Free Choice Act

Supposedly we have the water available, we have the shade available, we have bathrooms available but dare not use them for fear of being fired. It was as if we had none at all.

— Rigoberto Ramirez, Blueberry worker

We’ve shared stories with you about farm workers who’ve had no water to drink. Now we want to tell you about workers who do have water, but don’t have the opportunity to drink it because of the pressure put on them by the companies they work for. Please read their stories and then take action to help them by sending Gov. Schwarzenegger and your legislators an e-mail today.


The following is from a May 26th complaint the UFW filed on behalf of workers at Munger Farms, where 3 farm labor contractors employ more than 40 crews and 1,000 workers to harvest blueberries. Pickers are working hourly, but have a huge quota of 5 boxes a day–which forces them to work through their breaks, not drink water or go to the bathroom for fear of losing their jobs. This is not an imaginary fear. It happened to about 60 workers on May 26. The workers were promised 3 days of work. They were fired after one day before they even had the chance to acclimatize themselves to the brutal pace demanded. Here is the story of an experienced blueberry picker, Guillermo Cruz:

We started working at 8 am and we were asked to pick 5 boxes of blueberries for the day which is a total of 65 pounds of blueberries. I did everything that I could to meet the quota. Company supervisors were constantly on top of us and yelling at us if we dropped any blueberries on the ground which made us very nervous and confused on what to do. Workers could not afford to go to drink water or even go to the restroom because of the tremendous fear of losing their jobs. Some workers even worked through their lunch breaks to try to meet the quota. The company would not even allow us to take our third break. Many workers were running and going as fast as they could to try to meet the goal. I was one of the few that was able to make 4 boxes and could not understand why I would be fired if I had done everything in my power to meet the quota. The time we worked we saw crews of 60 workers going and coming because of the tremendous pressure to meet the quota and the company was firing workers every day.

Some of the workers are still waiting for their pay checks.

KERO Ch 23, 6/1/2009 UFW Prepared To Press Charges – UFW Representatives May File Against Munger Farms

DELANO, Calif. — Last week, dozens of blueberry pickers were protesting against unfair working conditions in Delano. Monday night the United Farm Workers Union said that they are ready to press charges against the berry farmers. Dozens of field workers said they were fired and never paid. MORE

This is not the only incident. On May 26, the UFW filed charges on behalf of Giumarra vineyard worker Francisco Farfan. Francisco was suspended and sent home for the day after the foreman said Francisco had gone too many times to drink water. He was keeping up with the workload demanded. It was hotter than 100 degrees that day. Francisco believes he was suspended for taking safety measures that did not impede his work performance and to which he is legally entitled.

Two days later the UFW also filed charges on behalf of vineyard workers at Sunrise Agriculture. Again, the about 100 workers there did have water. The problem was they were not allowed to drink the water unless they were on an official break–10 minutes every 4 hrs–or at lunch. These workers also did not have shade to protect them from the sun and were not trained in heat safety as required by law.

Such incidents show that workers need the ability to speak up without being afraid of losing their jobs. It’s why SB789 CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers is so vital. This bill will make it easier for farm workers to organize, speak up to improve working conditions and help enforce the laws that CA’s government cannot enforce. SB789 passed the CA state senate and will next be heard in the assembly and then go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Please take action today and tell them to pass SB789, a bill that will give farm workers the power to protect themselves.

Farm workers can not wait. Violations occur every day and little is done. Complaints regarding lack of drinking water, shade and work breaks to make use of these simple but lifesaving measures are an everyday occurrence for farm workers (worker stories). Last year six farm workers died of heat-related causes. Fifteen farm workers have died of heat-related complications since July 2004.

If you get time, this short documentary made late last summer is worth watching.  It’s 20 minutes long.  California’s Harvest of Shame is narrated by Speaker Emeritus Nunez, himself the son of a migrant farm worker, and includes a prologue and epilogue by actor and activist Martin Sheen.




Immigration Reform for Farm Workers, the Most Practical Solution for America

Now more than ever a comprehensive U.S. immigration reform is key in helping rebuild our country and giving back American working families the prosperity and equality they deserve. When we allow a group of people to be exploited and discriminated against, it negatively impacts American workers by driving down wages, benefits and working conditions.

President Obama recently announced he will pursue immigration reform that would allow the millions of undocumented workers already living in the country now to “come out of the shadows.” For that to happen, they need to be able to speak up and report abuses, organize and come to the bargaining table without fearing deportation. The reality is that most of these millions of workers have already established families in their communities and are part of our society as much as any U.S.-born American.

According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of U.S. farm workers laboring are undocumented. If we were to deport all undocumented farm workers, it would mean the collapse of the agricultural industry as we know it. That’s why the UFW has worked together with the agricultural industry for the last 10 years to craft a bipartisan approach that would ensure a legal work force for U.S. agriculture.

This compromise resulted in the AgJobs bill that would give undocumented farm workers presently here the right to earn legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. AgJobs is the practical and equitable solution in addressing grower concerns about labor shortages and the insecurity that makes farm workers so vulnerable to abuse.

Undocumented farm workers possess essential skills needed to maintain the viability of the agricultural industry. By allowing them to work here without molestation, we can ensure growers have a legal and available work force, and prevent unscrupulous employers from abusing the workers.

Blog by UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez, cross-posted from The Hill

Ask President-Elect Obama not to let the outgoing Bush Admin Steal Farm Worker Protections

The Bush Administration has released midnight regulation changes that make it easier for growers to slash the pay of domestic farm workers and hire imported foreign laborers instead of U.S. field workers. They will weaken government protections in an industry known for violating the minimum wage, housing requirements and other rules. We must do everything we can to avoid having these regulations implemented. Please help!

Today’s LA Times describes the situation well.

Los Angeles Times, 12/16/08:

Not content to leave office as the most unpopular president in recent history, Bush is cementing his legacy of hardheaded autocracy by pushing through a record number of last-minute and particularly noxious changes in federal regulations. Bypassing congressional debate and often receiving public comments through government websites, the administration has in recent months issued dozens of “midnight regulations” that in some cases could take years to reverse. This isn’t just leaving a stamp on the country, it’s more like inking a tattoo.

Please join the UFW in appealing to President-Elect Obama to act quickly to reverse these harmful regulatory changes once he is sworn in to office and protect farm workers from these callous regulations. Sign the online petition to his transition team today!

More excerpts from Today’s LA Times editorial:

Los  Angeles Times, 12/16/08:

Bush rewrites the rules-Last-minute changes being pushed through by the administration, such as altering H-2A visa rules, are creating disasters that Barack Obama will have to reverse beginning Jan. 20.

Although other presidents have crafted rules the next administration might not, none has been so aggressive or destructive as Bush. His administration has attacked environmental safeguards, reproductive rights and public safety. It has acted to permit uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, curtail women’s access to birth control, allow visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks — which are among the safest public places in the country — and open millions of acres of unspoiled land to mining.

Last week, the Department of Labor weakenedthe nation’s already flawed agricultural guest worker program. The new H-2A visa rules, which take effect in January, revise the way wages are calculated and will lower them substantially. In California, farmworker advocates say, the current $9.72 hourly wage would drop by 18%. The new rules also reduce requirements for growers to prove they have made a good-faith effort to recruit U.S. workers and limit how much they have to reimburse workers for their trips home. This is precisely what opponents of immigration reform feared: policies that disadvantage citizens and encourage the easy exploitation of migrants…

The LA Times is not the only newspaper that has spoken out. The following excerpts comes from yesterday’s Miami Herald editorial.

Miami Herald, 12/15/08

Rule changes target vulnerable workers.

OUR OPINION: Don’t allow last-minute regulations to erode standards

The torrent of new rules being issued by the Bush administration as it heads out the door is turning into a regulatory fiasco. The changes have lowered the bar on environmental review across the board, from limiting worker exposure to toxins to ignoring provisions of the Clean Water Act and softening, if not gutting, the Endangered Species Act. Late last week, new rules targeted vulnerable members of the labor force — farmworkers.

…Rules that are to be published this week and which would take effect just days before President Bush leaves office would: make it easier to hire foreign ”guest workers” — to the detriment of Americans willing to work in the fields; lower wage standards; and weaken oversight of farm hiring. This revision will hurt those who can least afford any cuts in pay or erosion of job protections…

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial said:

New York Times, 12/15/08

A Cheap Shot at Workers

The Bush administration is doing a last-minute overhaul of the visa program for temporary farmworkers to make it easier to hire foreigners over Americans, to lower workers’ wages and to erode their rights. You would think that after failing for eight years to fix immigration, the administration would pack it in rather than make one last listless stab at a solution. But this plan isn’t even that – it’s just midnight meanness, right in time for the holidays…

There are many more newspaper articles and editorials on this subject, but the bottom line is the same. These regulations are horrific for farm workers and we need the Obama administration to do everything it can to make sure they are not enacted.  

That is why we are asking you to please join the UFW in appealing to President-Elect Obama to act quickly to protect farm workers by reversing these harmful regulatory changes once he is sworn in to office . Sign the UFW’s online petition to his transition team today!

* For more specific information on these regulations click here to see Farm Worker Justice’s 2 page Summary of H-2A Regulations, entitled “The Bush Administration’s Shameful Legacy for Farmworkers: Midnight Regulations on the H-2A Guestworker Program” & click here to see their White Paper, “Litany of Abuses: Why we need more–not fewer–labor protections in the H2A Guestworker Program and click here to go to the UFW’s guestworker page where we will be posting the latest information.

Help farmworkers: Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoes AB 2386, secret ballot election reform

(It was disappointing, but not particularly surprising, to see Arnold axe AB 2386. It should have been signed. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Photobucket Image HostingWe need to share some very disappointing news with you and then ask you to e-mail Gov. Schwarzenegger and let him know how you feel. Last week, the Governor vetoed AB 2386, a vital bill to reform secret ballot elections for farm workers. With this single stroke of his pen, the governor denied farm workers the tool they need to protect themselves. While we are disappointed with the Governor’s veto, sadly we are not surprised.

When the governor vetoed a bill with similar goals last year, his veto message said:

“I am directing my Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work with the proponents of this bill to ensure that all labor laws and regulations are being vigorously enforced, and to make it absolutely clear to all concerned that my veto is premised on an expectation that agricultural workers receive the full protections of the law.

Tragically this has not happened. During the black summer of 2008, as many as six farm workers died due to heat-related causes.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s enforcement has not saved lives. And his administration has not “rigorously enforced” the law. In May of this year, 17-year old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died of heat illness, working for Merced Farm Labor. The Associated Press reported that the state ignored collecting the fine on Merced Farm Labor for not complying with heat regulations back in 2006.

Associated Press – 5/29/08

A division official said Jimenez’s employer, Merced Farm Labor, had been issued three citations in 2006 for exposing workers to heat stroke, failing to train workers on heat stress prevention and not installing toilets at the work site.

The Atwater company has not paid the $2,250 it owes in fines, said agency spokesman Dean Fryer.

Sacramento Bee – May 30, 2008

The labor contractor that employed a teenage farmworker who died after working hours in a hot vineyard was cited in 2006 for failing to provide employees with training to avoid heat stress, Cal-OSHA records show.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health also cited Merced Farm Labor contracting services in 2006 for not having an injury-prevention plan for its workers or enough toilets for them to use, agency spokesman Dean Fryer said Thursday.

The company was fined $750 for each of the violations and was told to fix them by December 2006.

Company representatives told Cal-OSHA it had corrected the problems, and staff members “felt comfortable the abatement was done and didn’t make an actual field visit,” Fryer said. “That’s not unusual. Usually, we get great cooperation from employers.”

Consequently, young Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died while working at a company that provided no shade, did not have adequate water, and had no emergency plan in place. All due to the same type of negligence Cal-OSHA had fined the same company for in 2006.

After Maria Isabel’s death, the Governor boasted that enforcement was at its highest level. Yet sadly, the lives of five more farm workers were lost this past summer.

In last week’s veto message, the Governor says he can enforce the laws.

As I indicated last year in my veto of SB 180, I remain committed to ensuring that agricultural workers receive all the workplace protections that our labor laws afford. To that end, I am calling for the creation of a dedicated funding source to facilitate enhanced oversight and education in the agricultural industry. I am directing my Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work with the proponents of this bill and all stakeholders to develop a proposal which will create such a program in a fiscally responsible way, for the ultimate benefit of both agricultural employees and employers.

Gov. Schwarzenegger words ring hollow after he promised simular things in his veto message last year and still as many as six farm workers died due to heat-related causes.

The support of poor farm workers means so much less to him than the support of big money agricultural interests. We also know that had it not been for the Governor’s fundraising agenda, or had we been a rich organization the Governor may have been willing to sign a bill for farm workers.

Please e-mail the Governor today!

Farm worker families desperately need your help for safe drinking water

(It is unconscionable that people have to fight for something so basic as safe drinking water. – promoted by Julia Rosen)

Photobucket Image HostingApproximately 200 farm workers and their families live in the 49 units at the Rafael L. Silva Migrant Family Housing Center in Los Banos, CA. These workers don’t have access to safe drinking water. Please help.

According to the Merced County Health Department, the water that comes out of their pipes has unacceptable amounts of arsenic, copper and radionuclide. Families get a ration of bottled water. However, they say the amount is not enough to have clean water for household chores and practice good hygiene. Families end up using having to use the contaminated well water.

Martin Jimenez and his family use the well water to shower. “Your hair falls out,” he said, describing the experience. Jimenez also said he has a rash from using the water. Other workers wash their dishes in this water. (July 12, Los Banos Enterprise)

Fish and Game has a pipeline that could provide safe water to these families, but they refuse to allow these families to use it. The Housing Authority has been negotiating with them ever since the camp re-opened in 2006 to be allowed to use Fish and Game’s pipeline until the Housing Authority could put in its own. Every excuse that Fish and Game has given has been resolved. However, they still refuse to allow the community to connect to their water line that receives safe water from the City of Los Banos.  

Please help. Sign the online petition TODAY & tell Fish and Game to be a good neighbor and stop forcing kids and their families to use contaminated water.

You can go to: http://www.ufwaction.org/campaign/losbanos

I Support The WGA Strike, Not The Strategy

The Writers Guild of America took to the streets today, beginning what promises to be a long strike in one of the largest industries in California.  I couldn’t be more in support of the people who are the lifeblood of Hollywood, the creative personnel that are the engine of the last vibrant manufacturing industry in America.  Unfortunately, I’m getting the sense that their leadership is falling back on an old union strategy of securing benefits for their existing membership rather than allowing their membership to grow, and this will have disastrous consequences for the future of the labor movement.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post, It’s the Unions, Stupid, which documented my experience at a Writers Guild meeting dedicated to organizing reality and nonfiction television storytellers. 

Yes, a lot of reality television is slipshod, exploitative and dumbed-down. But people don’t understand that the rank-and-file who work in it are often being as exploited as the contestants. Reality is big because of its low costs, mainly because, unlike scripted shows, it is not unionized. This has become a bargaining chip for the networks in their dealings with the Writer’s Guild, Director’s Guild, and others: take our crappy contract, or we’ll just make more reality shows.

Reality show workers make less than their counterparts in scripted TV. They work largely on weekly salaries, usually for no overtime, yet during stressful parts of production 16-hour days and weekend work are all too typical. Their credits are so amorphous that they bear no relation to the actual job worked. If a reality show is sold to another network for use in reruns, none of the workers see any residual fees. They have no employer-paid health care or pensions, and as freelancers on short-term assignments, they have little or no job security. 1 out of every 3 TV and film industry professionals are out of work on any given day in Hollywood (just go to a coffee shop at 2:30 on a Wednesday for proof).

This probably sounds whiny to many, and actually, it should. Most of these people are well-paid for the work that they do. Of course, that’s mainly because of the power of collective bargaining. The sundry labor unions have forced Hollywood to share its profits with its employees, with very few exceptions. But while reality television workers do benefit from that to a degree, they are the crack in the dike that allows the networks to cash in.

Along with hundreds of others, I signed a card at that time, in May 2005, allowing the WGA to negotiate on my behalf.  These negotiations ran up against a brick wall.  There were a couple high-profile meetings and protests.  Nothing.  There were lawsuits against production companies who were making their employees work 18-hour days, falsifying time cards, changing start dates and delaying productions that cost the employees thousands of dollars.  They resulted in brief reconciliations that were eventually rolled back.  There was a high-profile strike last year by the writer-producers of America’s Next Top Model.  The editors, who were unionized through IATSE, didn’t honor the picket line, the season of shows were finished, and those writers were not brought back the following season.  There was talk of a “wage-and-hour” campaign, to sue the production companies for overtime pay.  It never materialized.

The light at the end of the tunnel was the coming negotiations on a new contract.  Many thought that organizing reality and nonfiction storytellers would be a key bargaining chip.  After all, in the event of a strike, the studios could simply ramp their nonunion shows into production and move forward with business as usual.  So to avert the same thing happening far into the future, it made sense for the WGA to take a stand now, expand their membership, and leave the studios with less wiggle room to make a schedule during subsequent threats to walk out.  Indeed, this is exactly what the studios are saying is their alternative now.

Prime-time schedules would appear relatively unchanged for a couple of months, since a handful of episodes have already been prepared. But if the strike drags on the 2008 schedule will be heavy on reality shows (not covered by the current contracts) and reruns […]

Though CW Entertainment Chief Dawn Ostroff says they’re prepared, with new reality series like Farmer Wants a Wife and Crowned waiting in the wings, she, too, sees no advantage to striking: “It’s just better for everyone if habits aren’t broken and if people that are getting into characters and shows are able to continue to do so.”

I’m not at the bargaining table, so I can only go by the many reports I’ve seen, but it appears to me that the WGA is holding the line on DVD and Internet residuals.  Now, those are important issues that must be part of an overall agreement.  But the difference between those benefits discussions and expanding membership to other programming mirrors the central debate within the labor community; should they get as much for the dwindling numbers of union members they have, or should the focus be on expanding membership?  This is the schism that caused the SEIU and other unions to leave the AFL-CIO and form the Change To Win coalition.  Andy Stern and the other new-labor leaders firmly believe that the old paradigm is failing America, where union membership has declined to a great degree over the past 50 years.  If you give management a lifeline, a way to get their work done without having to deal with a union, they’re going to take it.  There are significantly less situation comedies in production than there were ten years ago.  There are less dramas, too, at least at the network level.

I hear the criticism that reality shows are cheap and tawdry and a major factor in the decline of Western civilization.  To a large extent I agree with it.  But if you hate reality shows, the number one thing you should hope for is that they become organized.  Ratings are only a small part of the story of reality’s success; with the exception of American Idol, that growth has leveled off.  It’s the enormous difference in production costs that has led to the burgeoning of the genre, and that’s entirely attributable to the fact that they’re nonunion.  The chain of TV and entertainment can only be as strong as its weakest link.  And I believe that, by foregrounding the monetary issues and not fighting to expand the membership, the WGA is undergoing the wrong strategy for the future, one that will ensure that their members have less opportunities to practice their craft.

United Hollywood is giving constant updates, as well as the LA Times’ Hollywood Writers blog.  I will support the strike in any way possible.  But I wish that the leadership would understand the need for a new-labor strategy, to increase the fortunes of the middle class and ensure that nobody is left behind.