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Bill Aims To Protect Farmworkers, But Farmer Says It’s Too Extreme

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CLEMENTS (CBS13) – As the August sun beats down on the Central Valley, lawmakers are trying to shine the spotlight on the dangers of working in the heat.

“We have criminal statutes on the books that protect farm animals more than current regulation (for farmworkers),” Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Los Angeles) said on Tuesday.

Calderon is behind one of two bills aimed at making conditions safer for farmworkers in response to 14 farm deaths since 2005. “Including one young girl who was pregnant who didn’t have to die,” Calderon said. “The water was 20 minutes away from her.”

Calderon’s bill is pretty cut and dried. It requires farmers to provide water and shade for workers or face possible criminal prosecution.

“If there is injury or violation under the penal code, now the district attorney can come in and file charges.,” he said.

California regulations already require growers to protect their workers from extreme heat, but the rules are enforced with civil penalties by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Under AB2676, which passed the Senate on a party line 24-12 vote over Republicans’ opposition, violations would be classified as misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

If a violation results in injury, farmers could face up to a year in a county jail and a fine of up to $25,000.

The bill returns to the Assembly for a final vote.

But Clements vineyard farmer Brad Goehring says the bills do more to hurt farmers than protect workers.

“I think they’re very damaging and another example of why businesses are leaving California,” he said. “I don’t really understand the need to make farming or any particular industry a criminal industry.”

Goehring has planted 800 shade trees on his property and says he provides ample water for workers. But Goehring says new legislation could open him up to frivolous lawsuits.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get through this one,” he said. “This could be a real deal-breaker.”

Another bill requiring overtime protections for workers is making its way to the governor’s desk.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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