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'Must make sure this never happens again'

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Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:00 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Lodi on Wednesday to pay his respects to a young Lodi woman who died after collapsing while working in a vineyard in the Farmington area.

Maria Jimenez

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, collapsed at a vineyard on May 14 and died two days later at Lodi Memorial Hospital, according to United Farm Workers of America spokesman Armando Elenes.

Jimenez had just come to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico in February to earn some money to help support her mother and six siblings, according to Arturo S. Rodriguez, United Farm Workers president . It was only her third day of work for Merced Farm Labor contracting, a farm labor contractor based in Atwater, Rodriguez said.

Family members and Jimenez's boyfriend, Florentino Bautista, 20, say that Jimenez died from working in 95-degree heat for nine hours. Jimenez was pulling "suckers," or small shoots, off the vines. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating whether she died from overwork or poor working conditions, according to spokeswoman Kate McGuire.

Schwarzenegger stopped in Lodi for a brief appearance after the funeral for Jimenez at St. Anne's Catholic Church. The governor then had a private meeting with Jimenez's family.

"She came to the land of opportunity but found death," Schwarzenegger said before meeting with the family. "We must make sure this never happens again."

The governor visited Lodi because he had enacted regulations to protect farm workers from extreme heat, said Daniel Zingale, senior adviser to Schwarzenegger and chief of staff for first lady Maria Shriver.

"I think you can expect very vigorous enforcement of the law," Zingale said.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, told family and United Farm Workers members that the Assembly had adjourned on Tuesday in Jimenez's memory.

"It was entirely avoidable," Lieber told family and union members. "Denying water and shade was immoral."

Lieber was referring to an allegation by Rodriguez that Merced Farm Labor, working on May 14 at West Coast Grape Farming in Farmington, failed to provide water to farm workers from 6 to 10:30 a.m. that day.

Jose Vasquez, brother of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, who died last week, tries to hold back tears Wednesday at St. Anne's after a funeral service. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

Rodriguez, who talked to Bautista and Jimenez's family members, said that Jimenez became dizzy and unsteady on her feet at about 3:40 p.m. on May 14. She didn't know where she was and didn't recognize her boyfriend before passing out, Rodriguez said.

Jimenez was taken to a medical clinic in Lodi, then by ambulance to Lodi Memorial, Rodriguez said. Doctors said she had a temperature of 108.4 degrees, he added.

Jimenez's heart stopped six times in the next two days. The final time it stopped, she couldn't be revived, Rodriguez said.

A crowd of more than 200 people, many holding black United Farm Workers union flags, attended the funeral, which was conducted in Spanish by Father Jairo Ramirez of St. Anne's. Some 30 to 40 attendees were family members, Elenes said.

Union members will also join Jimenez's family for Sunday's 12:30 p.m. Mass in at St. Anne's before walking to the State Capitol over a three-day period to request that the state authorities do whatever they can to ensure that no farm worker dies from heat stroke again, Rodriguez said. The first stop is expected to be Sunday night in Galt.

Schwarzenegger, who did not speak to the media, released a statement Wednesday saying the safety of the state's agricultural workers is a matter of "life and death."

"Maria's death should have been prevented, and all Californians must do everything in their power to ensure no other worker suffers the same fate." Schwarzenegger said in the statement.

Rodriguez added, "This is a very sad day for all of us in the farm workers movement. It was a tragedy that should have never happened. We're doing everything we possibly can so that it doesn't happened again."

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez had hoped to one day get married.

On Wednesday, the 17-year-old woman was wearing a wedding dress in her open casket at St. Anne's Catholic Church.

She and her boyfriend, Florentino Bautista, 20, met two years ago in high school in Mexico. They moved to Lodi in February so that they could work in the fields and earn money. Their plans, Bautista said, were to work in the United States for about three years, save some money, return home to Oaxaca, Mexico, get married and have a family.

Those plans evaporated on May 16, when Jimenez died at the age of 17, two days after collapsing in 95-degree heat in a Farmington vineyard.

After Jimenez's funeral Wednesday, a short meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and talking to the media, Bautista spent about 10 minutes looking into the casket at the woman he loved, in her wedding dress. He was sobbing at times.

The soft-spoken Bautista said that doctors treating Jimenez discovered that she was two-months pregnant at the time of her death. He wonders if Jimenez knew she was expecting.

When asked what he considered Jimenez's greatest qualities, he said, "Her way of being. She was always smiling."

She enjoyed listening to music and being with her family, he added.

She leaves four brothers and two sisters in Mexico. Her father died eight years ago.

- Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel

Rodriguez, who lives in Tehachapi, said that Schwarzenegger's visit demonstrates his concern for conditions affecting farm workers. Three of the governor's staff members attended the full Mass before Schwarzenegger arrived.

The Mexican Consulate is paying to transport Jimenez's body back to Mexico for burial. She was to be transported to a Los Angeles funeral home Wednesday afternoon, then taken to her hometown for burial, Elenes said.

McGuire, the California Department of Industrial Relations spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the investigation, which will likely take two to three months.

State investigators "determine factually what happened, and then they determine whether or not there were violations of the health and safety code," McGuire said.

If there are violations, the offender is cited and then the agency sends a report to local prosecutors to determine if criminal charges are warranted, McGuire said.

In 2006, the state fined Merced Farm Labor Contractors for three offenses. Those violations included failing to provide adequate heat stress training for all supervisory and non-supervisory employees.

That training was required to cover the importance of drinking enough water, recognizing heat illnesses and how to provide emergency medical services.

The other fines included failing to establish a written injury and illness prevention program, and not providing separate restrooms for men and woman. Each violation carried a fine of $750.

McGuire said on Wednesday that Merced Farm Labor Contractors had corrected the 2006 violations.

Questions addressed to the Merced firm were referred to Maria Colunga, who was named in the 2006 complaint. Colunga was reportedly on jury duty Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 2:37 am on Fri, May 30, 2008.


    js83 wrote on May 29, 2008 10:58 AM:" In regards to the first comment from "Brian," This would not be a white person because there are very very few white people that work in labor fields. "js83, No s%#t Sherlock. I was trying to raise the issue how Hispanics are not the only race that have jobs in the heat. There are still plenty of whites working the roads, putting on roofs, etc.

  • posted at 5:19 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    First to T & C ha ha ha@ white ppl in the fields. Its funny how ppl always say that illegals come and get on welfare, that is not true,beacuse of the experience I have in my job. I can honestly tell you that is not true, the majority are white, I hear it over and over again, white ppl saying a job at in fields are for illegal ppl. All these illegal immigrants also pay taxes, so it is ignorant to say that they come to this country to steal. When they are the ones being robbed and cheated from their taxes.

  • posted at 3:53 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Osha has strict guidelines about providing water to all laborers. It is usually the foreman's responsibility to let workers take water breaks and ensure that there is fresh water provided. Clearly this farm was not in compliance. It is a very sad story. Whether she was legal or illegal is not really the point.

  • posted at 3:40 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Scrutiny, well said.

  • posted at 2:24 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Bad things happen to good people every day. Life`s not fair, never was, never will be...

  • posted at 1:14 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    It's sad when any young person dies. His appearance was obviously a political stunt Its' not easy getting elected when a majority of Mexicans (Mexican-Americans?) vote Democrat. Fortunately for him the Demos put up a Marxist freak in the last election. California hasn't slid that far yet.

  • posted at 1:09 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    And by proper paperwork, I am talking about fake copies of the necessary IDs. I am pretty sure most employers can tell the fakes from the real ones but choose to overlook them in order to get the helping hands they need.

  • posted at 1:07 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Wow! I am amazed at the lack of compassion from some posters. I don't believe her legal status has been disclosed. Although she may have been illegal, this shouldn't happen to anyone. What if she was legal? Then what excuse do we have for what happened to her? Do we now say - well that's what she gets for not going to school. Although a good part of farm laborers are illegal, there are still plenty that are not. Employers need to be held accountable. If she was illegal and presented the proper paperwork, the employer probably turned a blind eye to it. This shouldn't happen to anyone in any line of work.

  • posted at 12:11 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    T&C, I have figured out what we pay our pickers. They make about $10 to $20 an hour. The faster they are, the more they make. I am about a $12 an hour person because I only work my fields and am very slow at picking cherries.At thinning grapes, pulling leaves and suckering, I am fast. But it is my field and we do not pay ourselves.

  • posted at 12:05 pm on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    I am so sorry to hear that this young lady died. It could have easily been prevented. All she had to do is say she felt bad and stopped. We ALL stop for breaks. When we start looking for shade it is time to quit. If someone gets sick, just like any other job, they go home. I cannot imagine anyone forcing someone who is ill to work. That is inhumane.

  • posted at 11:59 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    lodi209, you are so wrong. I am a white woman and was in the field all day. I will be there for the next week or so. The packing shed who buys our cherries sends their crew. They provide water and potties. We also have water on our trucks. When the weather gets to 100 degrees we ALL quit. On those days we start at 5 am and quit when it gets hot.Our grapes we machine pick at night to avoid the heat.

  • posted at 11:16 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    I agree, if this was a white person it wouldn't be an issue only because you will NEVER see a white person working out in the field...Please you racist BASTARDS how dare you even hope of anybody dying that just shows how STUPID & IGNORANT you are...how do illegals bother you in ANY KIND OF WAY..theres all types of bad people out there and of every kind of race..you should be THANKFUL you have immigrants working "YOUR" land because without them this country wouldn't be anything...HELLO...grow up...be mature..BY THE WAY THIS GOES FOR "GLAD2BEAOUT"...OUT OF WHERE? JAIL!

  • posted at 11:02 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    T & C wrote on May 29, 2008 2:25 PM:" Lack of "White people in "the fields", js83 is because of the very poor wages growers are willing to pay! At low wages how are honest people going to be able to afford the gas to get to the job site?"The government should stop welfare, etc and have those able bodies out picking our food, in the processing plants, etc.The migrant farm workers are the backbone of the food industry. Picking, planting, processing, packaging, etc. If we waited for white or black people to take those jobs at wages that are acceptable to them our food would cost 3x more.

  • posted at 10:26 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    .If there wasn't a GLUT of cheap illegal labor in the United States, then employers would be forced to ATTRACT workers (instead of just using them as a commodity) which would result in better working conditions, wages, benefits, etc.So, again, the problem could be solved by NOT ALLOWING illegal immigration in the first place - thus forcing employers to play fair.On the other hand, how is MECHA going to re-conquer the southern United States if they aren't allowed to flood it with disenfranchised mexican nationals???

  • posted at 10:20 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    .The case could be made that if this 17 year old had been prevented from coming to America illegally (and was in school, where she belonged) - she would still be alive and well in Oaxaca, Mexico instead of dying from heat exhaustion in Lodi, california.

  • posted at 9:29 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    They have to have id in order to be hired, and we are required to bring our own bottles of water, if we dont they have coolers for when ever needed. But we do get yelled at for going and taking a short break to get some. They threaten to fire sometimes to even use the bathroom. White people dont want to work there also because we have to work sometimes 13 hours a day with a handfull of breaks and only make minimum wage.

  • posted at 9:25 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Lack of "White people in "the fields", js83 is because of the very poor wages growers are willing to pay! At low wages how are honest people going to be able to afford the gas to get to the job site? Hmmm! We are still waiting for js83 to tell us.

  • posted at 9:23 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    I take offense at some Union for migrants DEMANDING that the Governor make sure all workers are protected, when in this case and many many thousands of other cases they were illegally in America. The first goal of our Governor should be strengthening our border against illegal immigration and then 2nd, making sure those who work in the fields are safe! Why isn't immigration officers visiting all these veggie and fruit picking locations and checking legal status? If ICE agents had arrested her she would still be alive and no one here can deny that fact!

  • posted at 9:20 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    To 384!You can bet the employer asked all the right questions and got the answers he wanted and put her to work.

  • posted at 8:43 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    was she legal

  • posted at 5:58 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    In regards to the first comment from "Brian," This would not be a white person because there are very very few white people that work in labor fields.

  • posted at 5:17 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Actually they are supposed to have water available to to workers. That is why you see those water jugs on all the construction trucks.

  • posted at 5:09 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    The employee should be responsible for their own hydration. I've had jobs where we all brought our own water as we labored in the sun all day and never thought our employer was going to supply water on demand for us.

  • posted at 4:49 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    Did anyoue wonder why a 17 year old girl was working in the fields on a school day? Did anyone bother to check some identification to verify legal employment? The employer is perpetuating our country's problem with illegal immigration. And I'm sure the employer doesn't want to check because then they will be required to uphold the requirements of OSHA and because the employer couldn't threaten deportation if the farmworkers complain. This is ridiculous. A young girl has now lost her life. Yes, if the young girl was here illegally - she made a bad choice, and ultimately paid with her life. However, the employer compounded the problem by not checking her legal status. Lets all do something, anything we can, to help stop illegal immigration.

  • posted at 4:32 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    What a tragedy. But I agree with T & C. If employers were forced to hire legal immigrants and then provide them with humane working conditions, this would never happen again. When people come in to the country "under the radar", there is always the possibility of this happening.

  • posted at 3:46 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    My condolences to her family in Mexico. However, America is the Land of Opportunity to be sure, and the stars are as far as you can reach out for with time, talent, and ambition. BUT... I do wish people would enter America in the same manner Every other Country is required by law to do, thru the application and visa process! Farm migrants work very hard and it is HARD work. Employers need to provide restrooms and shaded rest?break areas and Gateraid with ice, not be selfish for the profit line! If Empoyers paid a fair wage, fewer migrants/illegals would come to America to WORK and send money BACK TO MEXICO!

  • posted at 3:30 am on Thu, May 29, 2008.


    My condolences for the family. However, had this been a white person it would have been a non-issue.



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