Washington, D.C.—The United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation, and La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) renewed their call this week for the Department of Labor and OSHA to immediately issue a nationwide permanent rule on heat protection standards for outdoor workers in light of recent farm worker heat-inflicted deaths and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s elimination of municipal-level water break ordinances. The organizations also re-state their support for the today’s reintroduction of the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Safety and Prevention Act, named after a California farm worker killed by extreme heat while harvesting grapes in 2004.
Due to the physically demanding nature of agricultural work, farm workers working in dangerously high temperatures are extremely vulnerable to heat illness and death. Access to adequate shade, clean water, and paid breaks are essential for ensuring the health, safety, and survival of agricultural workers. Tragically, July 2023 has already seen at least two farm workers killed by heat while on the job. On July 5, 29-year-old Efraín López Garcíawas killed by heat near Homestead, Florida. On July 20th, 26-year-old Dario Mendoza was killed by heat near Yuma, Arizona. Since the heat-related deaths of farm workers often go unreported or are attributed to other medical conditions, a full accounting of farm workers killed by heat is impossible.
“Asuncion Valdivia in 2004. Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez in 2008. Florencio Gueta Vargas in 2021. And now Efrain Lopez Garcia and Dario Mendoza – both killed earlier this month. Farm worker families have lost far too many loved ones to deadly temperatures – and to deadly government inaction,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “OSHA must step up now to protect the men, women, and children who harvest America’s food in truly dangerous temperatures – sacrificing their health and sometimes their lives to keep our nation fed. Farm workers need and deserve the access to shade, water, and paid breaks. OSHA must take action immediately to implement the permanent nationwide heat rules. Every day we wait puts more farm worker lives at risk. How many more workers will we let dangerous heat and callous employers kill before this nation acts?”
“Farm workers are at the frontlines of climate change as extreme heat continues to expose them to more danger,” said UFW Foundation Chief Executive Officer Diana Tellefson Torres. “We must prevent heat-related deaths and we can do so by establishing a permanent heat standard that provides workers access to shade, paid rest breaks, training, and water. The UFW Foundation demands OSHA establish a permanent heat standard so that farm workers and other outside workers can have a safe work environment.”
“We need OSHA to establish permanent heat protections for farm workers in Arizona now,” said Esther Ruiz, a long-life farmworker from Yuma, Arizona, and UFW Foundation leader. “Farm workers here need heat regulations because the heat is unbearable and things are getting worse and worse every year. I have seen many co-workers collapse and feel sick during times of extreme heat. Every summer is getting hotter and hotter. I remember in the old times when it was rare to have a day with 115 degrees. Now 115 degrees is the new normal. We need breaks, shade, and water during these heat waves. It is about time for Arizonans to have heat protections and we ask our policy makers to please help us get there.”
“Eliminating heat protections will create dangerous working conditions in Texas, especially for farm workers and workers of other industries who labor under the sweltering Texas heat.” said Tania A. Chavez Camacho, executive director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “While Gov. Abbott favors greedy businesses that want to exploit our people, border residents have been on the frontlines advocating against policies that put profits and politics over human life. Removing worker protections such as water breaks will put people at risk of death for simply doing their best to support their families and pay their bills. Construction workers and farm workers make up a big part of our LUPE membership, and we won’t stand for policies that put their lives in peril. Working Texans deserve better than this.”