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January 2013, Volume 19, Number 1
California: Heat, Dairy, Dole
Heat. Since 2005, when there were four farm worker deaths linked to heat-stress and California adopted heat-stress regulations, there have been a total of 14 farm worker deaths with heat-related causes. There were no heat-related farm worker deaths in 2009 and 2010, and one in 2011.
The UFW sued the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health in October 2012, alleging that Cal/OSHA failed to conduct inspections in response to some of the heat complaints filed by workers and did not cite or adequately fine violators of heat-safety regulations. The UFW cited examples of cases in which it filed complaints that heat-safety regulations were being violated, but the suit alleged that Cal/OSHA waited until no workers were employed at the site before investigating.
Cal/OSHA responded that defending itself could drain resources away from enforcing heat-safety regulations, which it called "the most stringent in the nation." Cal-OSHA said that employer compliance with heat-safety regulations increased in all industries from 32 percent in 2006 to 76 percent in 2011.
Paramount Citrus opened the world's largest citrus packinghouse for its E-Z peel Cuties California Mandarins. Paramount said it shipped 60 million boxes of Cuties in 2011, and expects to ship 90 million boxes in 2012.
Dairy. California had 1,350 establishments in Dairy Cattle and Milk Production (NAICS 11212) in 2011 that had an average 18,200 employees. Wages averaged $600 a week, and total wages of $564 million were about 10 percent of the value of the state's milk production.
A 2009 survey of over 200 dairy employees in the San Joaquin Valley, half milkers, found that almost 90 percent were Hispanic. The average age of workers interviewed was 36, and they had worked an average of 6.6 years at the dairy where they were interviewed.
Workers had on average two previous dairy jobs. Of the workers who left previous dairy jobs, two-thirds cited low wages and benefits, followed by a third who cited economic problems at the diary where they had previously worked.
Dole. So-called donning and doffing suits allege that employers should pay workers for the time they spend putting on and taking off protective clothing. In December 2012, workers at Dole salad plants in Monterey county sued, alleging that they should be paid for the time they spend putting on and taking off protective clothing. Their class-action suit seeks compensation for the 15+ minutes that the suit alleges employees spend every day putting on protective hairnets and shoe covers.
The US Supreme Court in 2012 upheld a Court of Appeals ruling that required a Delaware poultry processor to pay workers for the 20 minutes each day that they spent donning and doffing protective clothing. Donning and doffing suits are expected to spread throughout the food processing industry, where many employers require workers to wear protective clothing to minimize the risk of contaminating products.
Marijuana. Marijuana growers are expanding production in northern California, often diverting water from rivers and streams and using fertilizer and poisons that make their way back into streams. Some North Coast rivers have had toxic blue-green algae blooms that threaten public health and kill the coho salmon that federal and state officials are trying to restore.
Marijuana plants consume five gallons of water a day during their peak growing period.
Billikopf, Gregorio and Gustavo Gonzalez. 2012. Turnover rates are decreasing in California dairies. California Agriculture Vol 66. No 4:153-157. http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v066n04p153&fulltext=yes