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Proposed Law Would Keep California Farmworkers from Overheating

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page, Farm Issues page, and our California News page.

In most jobs, if you have to spend even part of your workday exerting yourself under the hot summer sun, you're likely to have drinking water nearby. And, if you don't, you probably won't be penalized for going to find some. But for many farmworkers in California, the largest agricultural producer in the country, the freedom to hydrate isn't always so straightforward.

Even as temperatures climb above 90 degrees F, many of the state's 400,000 farmworkers don't have access to shade; or the water station is too far from where they are picking a crop, and they have to put off getting a drink. And since farmworkers are so frequently paid on a piece-rate basis rather than hourly, there's strong incentive to put off that drink, if available at all, for as long as possible.

It's not that there aren't laws requiring water and shade (there are), but if you're a worker on a California farm, you're not likely to see labor inspectors patrolling the fields, making sure all the rules are being followed and workers are safe, let alone comfortable.

Farmworker advocates have been pushing on the issue for years - public attention to farmworkers and heat safety spiked in 2008, when Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17 years old and two months pregnant, died from heat exhaustion she developed while working in California's grape vineyards.