STOCKTON — At the half-way mark in a 13-day, 200-mile march to Sacramento, farm workers stopped at the San Joaquin County Courthouse Monday to remember a 17-year old pregnant farm worker who died from heat stroke in 2008.
The Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Now march is being undertaken to get the governor to sign a bill improving working conditions for farm workers.
Last January, two officials from the now-defunct farm labor contracting firm that employed Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez escaped jail time for criminal charges in connection with her death during a hearing at the same county courthouse where the march stopped, at 222 East Weber Ave. in Stockton.
She passed out on May 14, 2008, while laboring in a Farmington vineyard without proper water or shade in violation of California’s 2005 regulation aimed at preventing heat deaths and injuries. Her employer did nothing to help her, failing even to call 911 as required by the regulations. Isavel died two days later, becoming one of at least 16 California farm laborers to suffer heat-related deaths since 2005. Cal-OSHA, the state work safety agency, is investigating two more farm worker deaths from this year, possibly from the heat. News of a possible third death has also surfaced.
Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, owner of Merced Farm Labor Contractors, and her brother, Elias Armenta, were initially charged with involuntary manslaughter in the young woman’s death. Early this year they pleaded guilty to reduced charges under a plea deal and were both sentenced to community service and ordered to pay a fine.
The farm worker marchers observed a moment of silence outside the courthouse for Isavel, who they believe was denied justice both in the fields and in the courts. Members of her family, including her uncle Doroteo Jimenez and his wife, Juana, and young son, are marching and attended the rally. They met with Gov. Brown this year on the anniversary of her death, urging him to sign the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act.
Marchers want Brown to sign the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, which would make it easier for farm workers to join unions, the next time it reaches his desk. On June 28, the governor vetoed the measure. A modified Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act bill is being reintroduced in the Legislature. A companion bill will also soon be before lawmakers ending the exclusion of farm workers from overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, which all other California workers receive.