Death of teen immigrant farm worker nets $260K fine

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Earlier this month we reported on Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old immigrant farm worker whose heat-related death sparked a public outcry against Trader Joe’s and their cheaper-than-thou “Two-buck Chuck” wine.

Jimenez was employed by Merced Farm Labor, which contracts with the same company that supplies the grapes that go into the infamous $2 a bottle Charles Shaw wine, sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s. While Jimenez was not picking grapes specifically for that wine, United Farm Workers asked supporters to pressure Trader Joe's to ensure that their vendors are contracting with responsible companies.

Jimenez’s death also instigated an investigation by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA), into Merced Farm Labor’s protocols. Today, the state agency announced they’re citing the company for three alleged serious and willful violations of state laws. Penalties could run as much as $263,000.

Makes putting out a little water and shade for your workers look a lot more affordable.

According to Cal-OSHA’s press release, Merced Farm Labor allegedly failed to provide drinking water and shade to employees, and violated the heat illness standard that mandates training for workers and their bosses about heat illnesses on preventing heat illnesses. They’re also being fined for not promptly responding to Jimenez’s illness with adequate medical attention. According to witnesses of the young worker’s fieldside collapse on May 14, the foreman recommended rubbing alcohol and the shade of an enclosed van as remedies. It took an hour and a half to get Jimenez to a hospital, and when she arrived her body temperature was over 108 degrees.

UFW issued a statement that fines aren’t enough punishment. Said president Arturo S. Rodriguez, "This is a case of manslaughter - there is no difference between a driver killing someone while breaking our traffic laws and a labor contractor breaking the law and killing this beautiful young woman. Anything less than criminal prosecution is a desecration of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez' death."