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Qtec
08-05-2005, 06:35 AM
Death in the sun
Migrant Latin labourers are the unseen force driving California's agriculture, but, writes Dan Glaister, there is growing alarm at the conditions under which they are forced to work

Dan Glaister
Friday August 5, 2005

Guardian Unlimited

You only need to drive for an hour from the centre of Los Angeles before you see them. From a distance they look like coloured markers in the fields. But then, as you draw closer, you realise they are moving. Gradually they take on the form of figures, bobbing up and down in the rows of crops, as if hiding from some unseen sniper. Hunched down in the fields, caps on their heads, cloths draped over their necks, slowly, very slowly, they make their way up and down the fields.
These are the labourers, the unseen and unacknowledged force behind the wealth of California's agriculture. They are all Latin Americans, most of them from Mexico. And many of them are "illegals", in the parlance of the time, undocumented migrants, illegally employed by legal Californian companies. Many of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens in the US work in agriculture, picking oranges in Florida, strawberries in California, and everything in between. Without them, there would be little to show for US agriculture.

Constantino Cruz was one of these labourers, picking tomatoes in Kern County in California's Central Valley. The robust 24-year-old arrived from the Mexican province of Oaxaca two years ago to earn money to send back to his wife and three children. This year his wife and some of his immediate family joined him. His children stayed in Mexico.

On Thursday July 21, Cruz began his working day at 6am, perched atop a tomato harvester, sorting the good from the bad. The machine dictated the pace of the work, pushing him along to get the harvest done with only two 15-minute breaks during the day. With temperatures reaching 40 degrees, Cruz suffered in the heat.

"The boss was really pushing for a bigger result," Cruz's uncle, Antonio Cruz said on Tuesday. "The machine operator wants them to work hard and fill many truckloads. It was when they were finishing the day that he had a chance to drink water, and that's when he lost consciousness."

Cruz was taken to hospital in Bakersfield where he was kept for five days before being discharged. The following day he had a heart attack and died.

Constantino Cruz became a statistic: he was the fifth agricultural worker to die because of the heat in California in the last year. In the 14 years between 1990 and 2004, eight agricultural workers died because of the heat.

The same day that Cruz died, the body of another migrant labourer, Agustine Gudiño was discovered in another Californian tomato field. A week before, on July 14, the body of Ramón Hernández was found in a melon field near Huron in California's Central Valley. The day before, July 13, 42-year-old Salud Zamudio Rodríguez died while picking peppers near Arvin, again in the Central Valley.

None of this is new to California, although the rate of deaths in this year's heat is unprecedented. In 1990, Rosa Elvia Durazo died when she was crushed by the tractor under which she was seeking shade. Her sister, Olivia Tiscareno, wrote to the authorities, saying: "It's too late for my sister, but please do not let it be too late for others." Her words were in vain. Since then, the state authorities have dithered, shuffling one measure after another into the backwaters of state bureaucracy.

But finally, something has been done. This week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a series of emergency measure to be introduced this summer to protect all outdoor workers, not just agricultural labourers, from the effects of the sun.

The new regulations require employers to give workers a five-minute recovery period should they feel the symptoms of heatstroke. They also specify the amount of water workers should be given - two pints per hour. Previous regulations only said that they should be given water, not how much. The new regulations will be enforced by a team of 64 inspectors who promise to prosecute employers if they willfully break the law.

As ever, Schwarzenegger had a movie analogy for the troubles faced by outdoor workers, as he stressed the need for worker - and employer - education in the effects of heatstroke.

"I've gone through all this when I was in Mexico doing a movie, Predator," he said when the measures were announced on Tuesday. "I had no idea. I experienced headaches. I was throwing up, diarrhoea, cramps, all of those things. I thought I had maybe caught a bug. The reality was I had to stay in bed for six days ... all because I did not know the symptoms."

The measures are a temporary, if welcome, stopgap, although some supporters hope to make them permanent. Hopefully they will give a boost to the measure slowly making its way through the state's legislative maze.

Legislation obliging employers to give minimum levels of shade, water and rest to outdoor workers is currently before the state senate. Last month, the Democrat-sponsored legislation was passed in the state assembly. Every Republican member of the assembly voted against the measure.

"It's very difficult to be a farm worker," said Antonio Cruz at the launch of the initiative this week. "It's hot sometimes. The pay is very, very low - extremely low - and too often the growers are asking us to work harder than it's really possible just so we can make a living." Let's hope the legislators were listening.





Q

9 Ball Girl
08-05-2005, 07:24 AM
Disgraceful.

pooltchr
08-05-2005, 08:43 AM
This is certainly a bad situation, however, I can only wonder if they had come here legally, if they might have been able to find better jobs, better working conditions and better pay. The fact that they are here illegally sets them up to be abused by some people. There really are reasons we have laws in this country...to protect the legitimate citizens and visitors here. It's hard to protect someone who by nature of their illegal status causes them to avoid any interaction with the authorities.
Sad as it is for these people, when you do something illegal, you are asking for trouble.

SpiderMan
08-05-2005, 09:07 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote Qtec:</font><hr> The new regulations require employers to give workers a five-minute recovery period should they feel the symptoms of heatstroke. They also specify the amount of water workers should be given - two pints per hour. Previous regulations only said that they should be given water, not how much. The new regulations will be enforced by a team of 64 inspectors who promise to prosecute employers if they willfully break the law.
<hr /></blockquote>
If a team of inspectors is available to prosecute employers who mistreat their illegal aliens, why are they not prosecuting these same employers for illegally hiring the illegal aliens in the first place? Not a "politically correct" law to enforce? Campaign contributions?

SpiderMan

SPetty
08-05-2005, 09:32 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote pooltchr:</font><hr> I can only wonder if they had come here legally, if they might have been able to find better jobs, better working conditions and better pay. <hr /></blockquote>Then who would pick the tomatoes?

pooltchr
08-05-2005, 10:32 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote SPetty:</font><hr> <blockquote><font class="small">Quote pooltchr:</font><hr> I can only wonder if they had come here legally, if they might have been able to find better jobs, better working conditions and better pay. <hr /></blockquote>Then who would pick the tomatoes? <hr /></blockquote>

How about death row inmates...might even end up saving some tax dollars!!!

Seriously, these farmers are taking advantage of the workers. If the workers weren't in that position, I guess the farmers might have to pay more and improve conditions if they don't want the tomatoes to die on the vines. We might end up paying more for tomatoes, but it seems like a small price to pay, considering what is happening now.

Our economic system works, if people let it. When people try to figure ways to get around it, that's when things get screwed up.

Steve

Cueless Joey
08-05-2005, 10:47 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote pooltchr:</font><hr> This is certainly a bad situation, however, I can only wonder if they had come here legally, if they might have been able to find better jobs, better working conditions and better pay. The fact that they are here illegally sets them up to be abused by some people. There really are reasons we have laws in this country...to protect the legitimate citizens and visitors here. It's hard to protect someone who by nature of their illegal status causes them to avoid any interaction with the authorities.
Sad as it is for these people, when you do something illegal, you are asking for trouble. <hr /></blockquote>
They did issue visiting agri workers years ago.
I believe it started during the Reagan era in California. Went on with Governor Wilson too.
The farmers' lobby is very strong. Strong enough to work around the child labor law. They have kids out there working up to 12 hours. With all that pestecide even.

9 Ball Girl
08-05-2005, 11:37 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote pooltchr:</font><hr> This is certainly a bad situation, however, I can only wonder if they had come here legally, if they might have been able to find better jobs, better working conditions and better pay. The fact that they are here illegally sets them up to be abused by some people. There really are reasons we have laws in this country...to protect the legitimate citizens and visitors here. It's hard to protect someone who by nature of their illegal status causes them to avoid any interaction with the authorities.
Sad as it is for these people, when you do something illegal, you are asking for trouble. <hr /></blockquote>Even the ones that are here legally still get treated like [censored] because it's figured that you're Mexican, you don't speak the language, and therefore they get taken advantage of. We're all here fighting the good fight. I see it all the time here and it pisses me off. The one thing that is very important to get under your belt is to learn how to speak English because without that little bit of knowledge, it's going to be a loooong rough road ahead--not that it isn't already but harder nonetheless. (By the way, idiots here in NY think that illegal immigrants are only Mexican but in actuality, they're of any other Latin American descent, as well as European and from the Carribean.)

I know that being illegal in this country is asking for trouble, but not to the extent where you have to sacrifice yourself in such horrid conditions. I know one has to do what one has to do to make ends meet, but for God's sake, we're all human beings here.

pooltchr
08-05-2005, 01:23 PM
Wendy,
I agree 100% that anyone who wants to succeed here certainly needs to learn the language. There are small pockets where foreign language is predominant. I know Miami has it's Cuban areas, and I'm sure New York has many different communities. But if one is to venture outside that small community, which is often necessary, they are at a huge disadvantage.
Steve

Deeman2
08-07-2005, 12:49 PM
"There, but by the Grace of God, go I."