California governor vetoes two heat safety bills

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation passed by the state legislature that was designed to provide additional protection from heat-related illness to California’s farm workers.

The state assembly passed both Assembly Bill 2676 — which called for fines and jail time for agricultural employers who don’t provide sufficient shade and water to their workers — and Assembly Bill 2346 — which would have permitted agricultural workers to sue an employer who fails to provide enough shade and water, but Brown was unconvinced that they were justified.

“While I believe enforcement of our heat standards can be improved, I am not convinced that creating a new crime — and a crime that applies only to one group of employers — is the answer,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “Instead, we should continue to enforce our stringent standards for the benefit of all workers in all industries.”

California regulations requiring employers to provide their workers with protection from the heat are among the first in the nation and have been  in effect for around 7 years.

Both measures arose after a 2008 incident where a two-month pregnant 17-year-old was overcome by 100-degree heat while pruning grapes. No jail time was served by any of those found guilty of failing to provide sufficient protection to prevent the girl’s death.

The vetoes were hailed by the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), which points to the assistance agriculture-industry leaders have provided in working with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to develop and implement workplace standards to ensure heat-stress prevention for outdoor workers.

“Farm Bureau and other farm organizations have worked cooperatively with CalOSHA to develop and strengthen existing heat-illness regulations,” CFBF President Paul Wenger wrote in a statement to the press. “We will continue to do so.”

However, labor organizations that supported the legislation decried the vetoes as inhumane.

“We’re talking about the bad actors in the industry, the growers that repeatedly refuse to obey the law,” United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez told the Capital Press. “If somebody out there is not really caring and not really interested in doing what needs to be done … we should go after them because that’s how farmworkers die all the time.”

   

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