Wednesday, June 12, 2024

United Farm Workers Aid Family of Deceased Teen Immigrant Farm Worker

The employers of a California teenage farm worker, who collapsed in the fields and died from heat stroke last year, have avoided any serious penalties according to the terms of a recent plea agreement.  

Originally, the labor company that hired 17-year old Maria Isabel Vazquez Jimenez to work in the Central Valley fields, as well as the company safety coordinator and crew supervisor were facing involuntary manslaughter charges. 

However, the local District Attorney’s office has allowed the owner of the now-defunct labor company, Maria de los Angeles Colunga, to agree to three years of probation and 40 hours of community service.

The reduced charges and plea deal has sparked outrage from labor and community activists.

The United Farm Workers Union (UFW) accuses Colunga’s company, Merced Farm Labor, of not observing “the most basic heat laws”.  They also claim the company previously had been fined for failing to provide a written heat stress prevention plan and never paid the fine.

Hoping to apply public pressure, the UFW has mounted a campaign asking the public to write to San Joaquin Valley County District Attorney James Willett, and urge him to reconsider the deals, calling the fines and community service simply not enough for the family and the public.

According to Deputy District Attorney Lester Fleming, Colunga’s brother, Elias Armenta, who was the company safety coordinator, will plead to a felony count of violating a health or safety regulation resulting in the death of a worker.

That charge carries up to five years probation, 400 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.

“This has worked out to be a sound resolution for all those concerned, and I’m very pleased with it,” said Randy Thomas, defense attorney for the brother and sister, “And we’re remorseful about the loss of a life.”

However, the family of the deceased teen does not agree. 

Doroteo Jimenez, uncle of Vasquez Jimenez, stated, “When I heard that they might get community service hours, I wanted to cry. After everything, this is what they get? They might as well have let them go from the beginning. Both of them are responsible for Maria’s death and both should do time in jail.”

The defendants are due back in court March 9 for further proceedings and a pre-plea report from the probation department.

United Farm Workers

The Record