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Farm worker’s death prompts outcry

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Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant and pregnant when she died in May while pruning grapevines in 100-degree temperatures. It shouldn’t have happened, since California is the only state with a heat-illness standard for agricultural workers.

Her employer, Merced Farm Labor, had already been issued three citations for violating the standards by exposing workers to heatstroke, failing to train employees on heat stress prevention and for not installing toilets at the work site.

California officials revoked Merced Farm Labor’s employer’s license. The rules require workers to have access to water, regular breaks and shade.

According to witnesses, a company foreman refused to send for medical help after Vasquez Jimenez collapsed. Instead, she was placed in a hot van to rest for two hours. Witnesses allege the foreman was worried that the company would get into trouble because Vasquez Jimenez was underage.

Merced Farm Labor disputes the claims and says it was Vasquez Jimenez’s fiancé who refused to get medical help. Meanwhile, San Joaquin County officials are said to be considering pressing criminal charges against the company.
The death prompted 500 United Farm Workers members to stage a four-day, 50-mile march from Lodi, where Vasquez Jimenez died, to Sacramento. They demanded stricter enforcement of state labor laws.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attended Vasquez Jimenez’s funeral, said, “Maria’s death should have been prevented.” Schwarzenegger has strongly backed labor reforms for farm workers.

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