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Advocates: Enforcement Of Heat-Illness Prevention Rules For Farm Workers Falling Short

The triple-digit temperatures expected this weekend will once again raise the risk for heat-related illness for farm workers in California's Central Valley.  Farm workers and growers don't agree on how safe the fields are, and the numbers don't provide a clear picture.

The number of heat-related deaths has dropped substantially since California issued heat-illness regulations ten years ago. But reported heat-illnesses are holding steady.

United Farm Workers Vice President Armando Elenes blames that on a lack of enforcement.

"As one worker described it to me, he said, you know what? When you guys are out in the field, the growers know the sheriff is in town," says Elenes.

Or in this case, the UFW, which regularly inspects working conditions on farms and reports violations to the state.

"Every time we’re going out there, we’re still identifying violations," says Elenes. "And we know for a fact that the moment the growers are aware that we’re out there, that increases their compliance."

Growers say such union monitoring is unnecessary.

Carl Borden is with the California Farm Bureau Federation.

"Growers have done a very admirable job providing drinking water, shade, cool-down breaks and having emergency provisions in place if an employee shows symptoms of heat illness," says Borden.

The UFW must get the state's approval to inspect farms. They've requested more than 30 permits in the last month.

 United Farm Workers

Shahla Farzan

Intern with The View From Here

Shahla is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the ecology of native bees. She first caught the radio bug as a world music show host for WMHC, the oldest college radio station in the country operated by women.  Read Full Bio