Merced Farm Labor Contractor, which hired the 17-year-old farmworker from Lodi who died after working at a Farmington vineyard, has been put out of business by the state.
The California Department of Industrial Relations issued an administrative order on Thursday prohibiting Merced Farm Labor Contractor from operating in the fields, citing the company's failure to comply with heat illness regulations as a threat to worker safety.
"With temperatures rising, we are taking this unusual step as a way to ensure that workers employed by this company are not put at risk," said Industrial Relations Director John Duncan. "This order will be in force until the company is in full compliance with California heat illness prevention regulations."
Atwater-based Merced Farm Labor hired Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old farm worker from Lodi who died last month of suspected heat-related causes after working nine hours in high heat in a vineyard without water or shade, according to a statement released by the Department of Industrial Relations.
Under California law, outdoor employers are required to train supervisors and employees about the symptoms of heat illness, have an emergency medical assistance plan and provide shade and water to workers.
Jimenez had moved with her boyfriend to Lodi from their native Mexico in February. Hundreds of United Farm Workers members and their supporters from throughout California attended her funeral at St. Anne's Catholic Church and a second Mass there four days later before some of them walked Lodi, Acampo, Galt and Thornton to the State Capitol to request greater enforcement of state law.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Lodi on the day of Jimenez's funeral and also released a statement Thursday.
"I cannot emphasize this strongly enough - companies that fail to protect worker safety will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.
"Every employer or labor contractor in every corner of the state of California will face the same scrutiny - obey the law or be shut down," Schwarzenegger said. "Worker safety from heat illness must and will be protected in California."
Agency spokeswoman Kate McGuire said that Merced Farm Labor will remain out of business unless the company can prove they were in compliance. The agency is continuing its investigation on exactly what happened to cause Jimenez's death, so McGuire can't comment further on the case, she said.
On June 4, Industrial Relations' Division of Labor Standards Enforcement moved to revoke Merced Farm Labor's license to operate for failing to disclose that it was cited for similar Cal/OSHA violations in 2006, and for failing to follow heat illness regulations as required under its license.
While investigating the Jimenez case, investigators reportedly uncovered evidence that leads them to suspect that the company may be continuing to hire and place workers in unsafe and unhealthful working conditions, and as a result issued the order to prohibit use as a precaution.