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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

California: Heat, DLSE

Heat. There were no heat-related deaths of farm workers in 2009, compared with three in 2008, according to the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA). There were eight heat-related illnesses among farm workers in 2009, down from 17 in 2008, according to Cal/OSHA.

The Board overseeing Cal/OSHA considered amendments to the state's Heat Illness Prevention regulations, adopted in 2005 and made permanent in 2006. The permanent regulations have four major provisions, employers are required to: 1) make available at least a quart of water per worker per hour; 2) provide access to shade for at least five minutes for workers suffering from heat illness; 3) train workers and their supervisors about heat illness; and 4) have a written plan to deal with workers suffering from heat illness.

The amendments would require employers to make shade available to at least a quarter of workers when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, and to implement high-heat procedures when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees. Farm groups support the amendments but want an exception to the shade requirement when shade is unsafe or infeasible, as with irrigators.

A $20,000 "Cooling Station" that uses misting fans to reduce surrounding temperatures by up 25 degrees and can seat 12 farm workers under shade drew attention in 2009. It is not yet clear how many cooling stations will be sold; most farm employers use portable tent structures to provide shade for their workers on hot days.

DLSE. California's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (www.dir.ca.gov/DLSE/dlse.html) enforces state minimum wage, child labor, and similar labor standards laws. The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation reviewed DLSE data over the past decade, and found that inspections fluctuated more than citations. In 2008, there were a peak 8,400 inspections that resulted in 5,200 citations issued for violations of state labor laws.

There were 954 inspections in agriculture in calendar year 2008; they resulted in 222 citations for $1.6 million, of which about $196,000 was collected. Over half of the citations, and $1.2 million of the assessments, were for lack of proof of workers compensation (WC) insurance? only $75,000 was collected for WC citations, suggesting that many employers had the citation dismissed when they provided proof that they in fact had WC insurance but did not post the notice as required. There were 55 citations for child labor, 43 for cash wage payments, six for minimum wage violations, and two for overtime violations.

Agriculture accounted for 11 percent of the inspections and four percent of the citations issued in 2008; restaurants accounted for 15 percent of inspections and 20 percent of citations issued. However, restaurants paid a far higher share of assessments than farm employers? about 30 percent of the $6.6 million assessed on restaurants was paid, compared to 12 percent of the $1.6 million assessed on farm employers.

Hines. The federal Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices in 2008 charged Hines Horticulture, an Irvine-based producer of ornamental shrubs and color and container-grown plants for big-box retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart, with discriminating against US workers. Hines, whose sales of $215 million in 2007 made it the largest producer of ornamental shrubs and container plants, filed for bankruptcy on August 20, 2008 and transferred its assets to Texas-based Black Diamond Capital Management for $58 million and an assumption of $46 million in liabilities. Hines operates seven commercial nurseries across the country.


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