Urgent Action: Worked to Death and No One Cares?!


(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




26 thoughts on “Urgent Action: Worked to Death and No One Cares?!

  1. Prof, would you consider cross-posting this piece at the new community blog <a href="http://thesanctuary.soapblox.net/“ rel=”nofollow”>The Sanctuary? Nezua wrote a <a href="http://thesanctuary.soapblox.net/showDiary.do?diaryId=200“ rel=”nofollow”>short post about the incident, but I like your list of action items. Indeed, I’d like to extend a standing invitiation to you, to post to the front page at The Sanctuary, at your convenience; your voice would be an important, valuable contribution to the mix. Feel free to email me with questions, issues, whatever. Thanks for all the terrific, inspiring work! Peace.

  2. aack! Kai you will be the second person to make me this offer for a multi-authored blog and last time I said yes and then went on vacation . . . how ’bout I say the truth: I’m flattered and I’ll think about it, but I cannot make any promises. Emphasis on the I’m flattered part.You are welcome to cross-post it there in its entirety (NO NO ONE ELSE GETS TO DO THIS FOLLOW THE COPYRIGHT YOU ALL) and just give me the byline (professor black woman). Let me know if I can make that easier for you some how without making commitments.

  3. ProfBW,I want to get this out where lots of Trader Joe’s consumers are:WIKIPEDIA.Why? Because my local Trader Joe’s said they don’t have authority to pull any product, no matter what it is, without permission from headquarters.They said they’d pass the word on and accepted my request to say that it was at the behest of shoppers from their service area.I still think your idea of calling LOCAL Trader Joe’s and convincing them to beg HQ to simply LET them pull the product even if HQ won’t pull it nationwide is going to be an effective one.But…it might take more voices per store to get HQ to relent to each store coming under fire.So that’s why I decided to Wikipedia the call to action.Please scroll down <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Charles_Shaw_wine&diff=218071993&oldid=204379972“ rel=”nofollow”>this page and see what you think of the way I wrote “Labor problems” for Charles Shaw wine. I couldn’t think of a better phrasing than the way you wrote condition #2, but I couldn’t copy that many words w/o linking to you, the author of them. Not to mention, that section’s gonna need a link to SOMEBODY’S blog as evidence of “calls for blogger action.”But yours?Ugh…I don’t want you getting SAed like ABW on account of me trying to help.Please advise!Thanks,Katie

  4. Thanks for the update on Trader Joe’s. Everybody can use the link in the post to find their local Trader Joe’s and hopefully talk to management there. It would be best to bring a signed letter of complaint when you go in so they have something to forward to corporate HQ. Even if you don’t shop there or drink you can complain.As for wikipedia, blogs aren’t considered a legitimate source of information so I don’t think you can cite me there. The bloggers link is fine to link to me but I think you need to add a link to the United Farm Workers who spearheaded the circulation of information and are trying to coordinate condolences for the family. They deserve the most credit in any story here.

  5. lol. yep. what I meant was, according to their citation rules you cannot site blogs as sources of information with a few minor exceptions (see the conversation on say hey page for those) but that you could link to me for the “bloggers” link that you had because you are talking about blogs. Either way, I really think the UFW effort needs to be centered somewhere in the final draft.

  6. Prof BW, no commitment necessary! And thanks for the reposting offer; you don’t have to do a thing; I’ll see what I can hook up. 🙂

  7. Regarding the boycott of Charles Shaw wines– for what it’s worth, examiner.com reports (evidently via the AP) that “State officials say they have revoked the company’s license.” It does not specify whether that is the labor contractor’s license (that would be my interpretation) or the vineyard’s license but either way, the implication is that those responsible for the incident are not supplying Charles Shaw while the state investigates.http://www.examiner.com/a-1425606~Farmworker_s_death_prompts_calls_for_Calif__reform.htmlMake of that what you will, but a boycott may not achieve anything.

  8. I’m actually writing an article about this incident for another website. I’m so glad that you wrote about this here. You are giving me some ideas and resources to move forward. This is a tragedy.

  9. Thank you so much for posting about this. I hope if you have any follow up information you can post it as well. I’ll try to keep up with it also. I wonder if there are any further actions being taken against Bronco Wine Co.?Take care

  10. Amy – welcome to the blog. I always post updates as I become aware of them unless I am on vacation. Hi Adriana – glad to hear it. Elusis – welcome to the blog. just to be clear, I am not spearheading a boycott of this wine. I made a list of things people can do and at the top of those in my mind is signing the UFW letters to the family, giving money to offset the funeral costs, and sending scathing letters directly to the safety manager and the CEO for not even doing the minimum required by state law to protect its workers. Money matters and getting Trader Joe’s in on the effort when they have an exclusive deal would make a huge difference, but it is only one of many possible ways to support Maria’s family and some of the other short term ones really need to be done now. Peter. welcome to the blog. Please post this information where it matters – the wikipedia site. And thank you for passing it on here as this information was NOT in the articles I consulted and cite here (mostly b/c I was not writing about Charles Shaw wines specifically but the larger company and the specific subsidiary where Maria worked). As for the boycott working or not, please see my comments to Elusis.

  11. fwiw, it is the labor contractor, Merced Farm Labor Contracting, that had its licence pulled – not the vineyard, West Coast Grape Farming Inc ( owned by Bronco, as you say) – so there are no “sanctions” whatsoever for the corporate grower – a contract’s length distance from liabilityCharles Shaw wines are but one of many labels owned by Bronco – many of which are on grocery stores shelvesAssemblyman Fabian Nuñez introduced a bill in April that would allow off-worksite union organizing (& voting!) which deserves strong support

  12. thanks arcturus for that clarification and welcome to the blog. I’ve updated the actions to include supporting the bill but cannot find the bill number on his website. Do you have it so I can add that in?

  13. Sorry, I was confused & misspoke. There was a bill this year allowing workers to sign cards intstead of casting ballots that was vetoed by Schwarzenegger. Núñez is working on a new one but hasn’t introduced one yet, & Darrell Steinberg, the incoming Senate Pro Tem has said he’ll support one.

    The legislation would allow farmworkers “to vote for collective bargaining rights in a way that their employer does not influence how they vote,” said the Los Angeles Democrat. “We’re still coming up with a construct that not only will get us the buy-in of the workers but that we can also sell the governor.” . . .Under the current process, farmworkers wishing to join a union must first submit a petition signed by a majority of employees. The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board must then hold a secret-ballot election within seven days. Unions say that during the waiting period, businesses discourage yes votes by intimidating workers.Farm industry leaders fought hard against last year’s bill, claiming that it took away a farmworker’s right to a secret ballot.They are gearing up for another fight this year.“We will keep this as our top priority because we do feel the sanctity of the secret ballot is the No. 1 issue,” said California Grape and Tree Fruit League President Barry Bedwell, who led the lobbying against last year’s bill. <a href="http://www.sacbee.com/agriculture/story/927575.html“ rel=”nofollow”>Sac Bee

    I read somewhere (don’t have a link) that there were two other deaths in the valley that day – one on an oil rig, another at a seed processor. Not as poignant as 17 & pregnant, but still . . .Point is that the laws are (finally) on the books as far as working conditions in the fields; they’re barely enforced & there’s little $$ $ or political will to do so. As UFW President <a href="http://www.ufw.org/_board.php?mode=view&b_code=news_press&b_no=4341&page=1&field=&key=&n=528“ rel=”nofollow”>Arturo S. Rodriguez said at the rally on Sunday:

    We know there are 600,000 farm workers toiling on 80,000 farms, frequently moving from place to place and victimized by a corrupt farm labor contractor system that shields the wealthy from responsibility. There has never been adequate enforcement of laws protecting farm workers, under either Democratic or Republican administrations. This governor issued the heat regulation in 2005, after three previous governors refused to act. Yet Governor Schwarzenegger is well aware of the limits of government. One of those limits is that even legal protections issued by a well-meaning governor mean little if we cannot give farm workers a way to use our good laws to protect themselves. Our union has always believed that given the chance, farm workers could solve their own problems by organizing themselves and winning UFW contracts. Where farm workers are protected by union contracts, the laws are honored. And when growers know it is easier for farm workers to organize and bring in the union, employers are much more careful about obeying the law because they don’t want to give the union an advantage.

    btw, Napa Ridge is another Bronco wine commonly seen on grocery store shelves . . .

  14. thanks for all the updates. I think Maria’s death is important in its own right but also because it makes people question how many other people are exploited and/or dying as a result of our “unofficial” labor practices. I think the best place for the Napa Ridge comment is probably an edition to the wikipedia page. As I’ve said, my post’s focus is on the vineyard and Bronco Wines (as in all of its subsidiaries). I mention 2 buck chuck by name because it is an exclusive contract between Trader Joe’s and Bronco Wine; If Trader Joe’s pulls the wine, Bronco has no other distributor and has to do something. I also hope it is easy to mobilize because so many people shop at Trader Joe’s because they think they are being responsible or fair minded.

  15. Well I’ll be damned.UFW took up action through Trader Joe’s, too.(Did you think of that idea as you wrote this? High five for brilliance, if so–and it must be brilliance, because it’s spread.)

  16. I just got the action email as well. 😀 If they got the idea here, or from anyone else who first read the idea here, all I can say is that it is a privilege to have influenced such an amazing group of people. The UFW inspire me daily. (And yes, I did think that up while I wrote b/c I had just recycled a stack of old Trader Joe’s catalogues that morning.)

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