(Please scroll down to the “what you can do” part of this post even if you already know Maria’s story)
Maria Isabel Vazquez died May 16 in hospital after severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke caused by unsafe conditions on West Coast Grape Farming Vineyard in Farmington CA. She was 17 years old, and 2 months pregnant. She is survived by her mother, father, and fiance, who all tried to get her help without the foreman’s original assistance.
West Coast Grape Farming contracted with an employment agency/overseer that made workers labor in 95 degree weather without water for over 4 hours on May 14, 2008. When water was finally provided, it was in a stationary location at least 10 minutes walk from many of the workers, including Maria.
There was no shade on West Coast Grape Farming Vineyard for workers, nor was specific shade set up to provide to workers either. No mandatory training on heat exposure for workers or their foremen was done by the vineyard or the labor contractor.
California Labor Law requires: shade, 4 cups of drinking water per person per hour be available and accessible, additional 5 minute rest breaks as needed, and a heat exhaustion emergency plan. Workers were provided none of these.
California’s Occupational Safety Agency issued a heat-danger warning for employees that morning. West Coast Grape Farming apparently did not pass the message on nor change their labor plan for the day, also required by law.
The Foreman also failed to get Maria needed help. When she collapsed at 3:40pm, the Foreman told her parents to “rub alcohol” on her. An hour later when she was being rushed to a clinic with a 108.4 degree temperature the Foreman told the driver to tell the clinic she was “jogging” in the heat and not a worker. His concern: the company would get in trouble for employing under age workers.
Maria died two days later after having her heart stop SIX times in the ambulance alone. Doctors said if she had been taken sooner or received care in the fields at the first sign of trouble, she might have survived.
As of June 1, 2008 NO ONE at West Coast Grape Farming Vineyard has issued an apology. No official offer of condolences has been offered Maria’s family. And as far as I know, conditions remain the same though they are currently under investigation.
What You Can Do:
- The United Farm Workers have set up an online system to offer your condolences to the family. Please take a moment to send Maria’s family your support by clicking here.
- DO NOT BUY “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s, as this is made by the same wine company responsible, and ask Trader Joe’s in your area to pull the wine until there is justice for Maria and ensured compliance with state mandated working conditions for all of Bronco Wine’s employees. – UPDATE: according to an article cited in the comment section the license for one of the labor contractors has been revoked; this has no bearing on Two Buck Chuck, the West Coast Grape Vineyard where Maria died, nor the parent company that operates both: Bronco Wine Co. They all continue to operate despite ultimately being the ones in charge and who profit from such labor conditions.
- Please also take time to write the company about their work conditions and failure to provide adequate safety or care. West Coast Grape Farming is owned by Bronco Wine Co. Address your letter to Safety Director Debbie Barry (see what I mean about not all women being for all women’s rights) and Fred Fanzia, the CEO of Bronco Wine, the 4th largest wine company in the US. contact info: address: 6342 Bystrum Rd. Ceres, CA 95307 phone: 209-538-3131 or flood the fax: 209-538-4634
- Donate to the family to pay for Maria’s return to Mexico and her funeral. For information, contact her uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, at (209) 329-3692 or Luis Magaña, an activist with Proyecto Voz, at (209) 465-4265
- Update: If you are local, please also support Assemblyman Fabian Nuñez’s planned bill to support workers (read the comments section for more info) by writing in to the California State Assembly to express your support and asking Nuñez how you can get involved. State Capitol P.O. Box 942849 Sacramento, CA 94249-0000
Fabian Núñez’s bill in his own words