Treat farm workers humanely

Governor should sign bill criminalizing abusive conditions

Should farm workers enjoy the same protections against abuse that animals do? Our local assemblyman, Dan Logue, doesn’t think so, and neither does his main opponent for state Senate, former Assemblyman Jim Nielsen.

Under law, the owners of animals are required to provide them with proper food, drink, shelter or protection from the weather, or risk facing a fine and/or imprisonment. But Nielsen and Logue are fiercely opposed to a bill that is now sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would afford farm workers similar protection.

Assembly Bill 2676, the Humane Treatment of Farm Workers Act, says agricultural employers must treat farm workers at least as well as animals, by providing shade and water, or face the same misdemeanor penalties punishable by jail time and fines.

Farm working is hard, hot, dangerous work. During a heat wave in 2005, high temperatures led to the deaths of 12 farm workers. And in May 2008, 17-year-old Maria Isabel Jimenez died after pruning grapes for nine hours in temperatures near 100 degrees. She reportedly was denied water breaks, and when she collapsed the contractor for whom she was working didn’t call 911 and delayed medical assistance. By the time she reached the hospital, her temperature was 108. She died two days later.

Are Nielsen and Logue concerned about these workers? Not at all. They’re worried about the poor farmers. “This action unleashes the hounds on hard working farmers,” Logue harrumphs in a press release. The bill’s “punitive provisions … subject hard working farmers to more serious penalties than violent criminals,” Nielsen fumes.

That’s self-evident nonsense. And any farmer who treats his workers with basic human kindness will not have to worry about being attacked by hounds.

The reality is that the state doesn’t have enough staff to do heat inspections on California’s 81,500 farms. In 2011, only 1,090 inspections were done, according to the San Bernardino Desert Sun. By making abuse a misdemeanor offense, AB 2676 puts those few farmers inclined to treat workers poorly on notice that they run a risk doing so.

The governor should sign it, along with a companion bill, the Farm Worker Safety Act of 2012 (AB 2346), that would allow farm workers to sue employers who repeatedly fail to comply with mandatory requirements for shade and drinking water.

Work should not mean being worked to death.