Lawmakers check out conditions for farmworkers

FRESNO, Calif.

A group of state legislators came out to watch them work. They wanted to get a feel for the conditions these men and women labor under.

Farmworker Leticia Guillan said she had no complaints. She said her employer makes sure there is adequate water and shade. She said, "They have everything close by, he's a good crew boss, he takes care of all of us."

Farm owner Harold McClarty was eager to let the lawmakers hear from his workers, and see the conditions here. He said, "We want to show them how careful we are about heat illness and water and how important it is to drink water and how often."

These legislators will be considering measures in the new Farmworker Safety Bill that would require more water and more shade for workers.

State Assembly Member Henry T. Perea of Fresno says any new regulations need to be fairly applied. He said, "Part of the concern is not every farmer is the same, a vineyard is every different from an orange orchard. And so to make sure we do something to protect the workers and also makes common sense for the employer to do."

But in addition to water and shade the Farmworker Safety Act sponsored by Assembly Member Betsy Butler of Los Angeles would impose stiff fines and penalties. Farmers and labor contractors could even face criminal manslaughter charges if a worker dies from the heat while on the job.

McClarty believes the proposed laws go way too far. He believes existing laws are enough if they are properly enforced. He said, "We have adequate protection for the workers and they have adequate rights and it works. They are more than workers. They are friends and family."

The farmworker safety act would also allow farmworkers to bypass state agencies and sue farmers and contractors directly for violations.

The Farmworker Safety Act has passed the State Assembly and will be considered in the State Senate when they come back to work after the summer recess. the goal is to stop heat related deaths and illness in the fields.

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