Sacramento/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on July 10, 2024
California Farmworkers Fired After Leaving Fields Due to Extreme Heat, Prompting Legal Inquiries in Yolo CountySource: Unsplash/Maksym Ivashchenko

Heatwaves in California often paint a stark backdrop to the everyday struggle of farmworkers, a narrative that turned exceptionally tangible in Yolo County where six farmworkers were fired after they left their work in oppressive 105-degree temperatures. According to a report by ABC10, the laborers from Ruiz Farm Labor decided to leave the fields in Winters due to severe heat stress symptoms. The following day, they were terminated from their employment.

Jorge Santana, one of the dismissed workers, told KCRA 3, "We notified a supervisor that we wanted to leave early and she said, 'Yeah, you guys go ahead. You guys have the right to leave whenever you want, no problem." However, the collective action of these workers seemingly backfired. This incident has raised questions about workplace rights for those who labor under the California sun.

These farmworkers, who have since sought support from the United Farm Workers union, have filed complaints with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) and the California Department of Labor for alleged heat safety violations and retaliation. Antonio De Loera, a representative for United Farm Workers, informed ABC10, "Every worker outdoors in California has the right to cool drinking water that's accessible and clean, cool drinking temperature, shade adequate enough for every worker present on site to take a rest at the same time and rest breaks that are paid."

The State's response has been multifaceted, with Cal/OSHA opening a complaint-initiated inspection and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board receiving allegations of unfair labor practices tied to the incident. "Workers are every day making this calculus in their heads. You know, do I speak up? Do I stay safe or do I or do I risk losing my job? Or should I just keep my head down, keep working, even if I feel sick, even if I feel dizzy, even if I'm starting to get those early warning signs of real heat stress," Antonio DeLoera told KCRA 3, voicing the internal conflict many workers face.

Farmworkers are protected by California labor laws which demand access to water, rest, shade, and training to combat heat illness. Moreover, Labor Code section 6311 forbids employers from retaliating against employees who refuse work that could violate safety standards. Those affected by such retaliation can file claims for remedies including lost wages and benefits.