Heat Death

By Maritza Gordillo

Image c/o Flickr Images

I was browsing Change.org and stumbled across an article about 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez who died of heat exhaustion. Maria was constantly denied water breaks while working long hours picking grapes for the Merced Farm Labor in California. After working nine hours in the sun, she collapsed in the arms of her fiancé, and died two days after. The doctors that examined Maria’s body discovered that she was two months pregnant. When she was initially brought to a clinic, her family was instructed, by the labor contractor, to say that she had fainted while exercising. Is it physically possible to reach a temperature of 108 degrees while exercising? Maria’s, and her unborn child’s, deaths could have been prevented if the labor contractors would’ve taken the time to consider heat prevention procedures and the basic rights of a farmworker.

Maria’s family took Merced Farm Labor to court; the result was a $1000 fine and 400 hours of community service for the safety coordinator, and 40 hours of community service and 3 years of probation for the owner of Merced Farm Labor. Their attorney may even find a way to reduce the safety coordinator’s charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. This type of minor punishment for two deaths that were preventable sends a horrible message that the life of women farmworkers do not matter. Maria’s case is just one of many female farmworkers who get exploited by their labor contractors with no opportunity for water and restroom breaks or even proper shade. We should advocate against this unjust treatment of women farmworkers. If you would like more information about Maria’s case please visit the United Farmworkers Facebook page.