Farmworkers do some of the most dangerous, demanding work in the country – and they are explicitly exempt from U.S. labor laws. Pesticide poisonings, child labor, modern-day slavery and death from heat exhaustion remain common occurrences in our fields as a result.
In California’s Central Valley heat stroke is a particular threat for farmworkers. Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old girl, died in 2008 of heat stroke while working in a California vineyard. Her body temperature rose to 108 degrees, and she was pregnant. Her tragic case is far from unusual. In the four years leading up to her death, 10 farmworkers had died of heat stroke in the fields; less than a year later, yet another farmworker died.
When we allow such human rights abuses to go unnoticed, and unpunished, we invite more of the same. That’s why we’re asking you to ensure that the Maria Isabel’s case be fully prosecuted: to demand justice for her, and to send a clear message to farm labor contractors. Right now, the prosecuting attorney is poised to make a plea deal that would allow those responsible for her death to get off with community service and minimal fines.
Please join us and the United Farm Workers in urging District Attorney James Willet to prosecute those responsible for Maria Isabel’s death to the fullest extent of the law. Only when it becomes clear to farm labor contractors and the officials tasked with keeping them in line that the American public will demand justice for the men, women and children on the frontlines of our food system – only then will these abuses become unthinkable.