San Joaquin County District Attorney filed Involuntary Manslaughter charges and California Labor Code violations against Merced Farm Labor in the May 2008 death of 17-year-old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, according to a press release from the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). The charges followed a Cal/OSHA investigation that revealed neglectful acts on the part of the employer. After the referral to the District Attorney, Cal/OSHA collaborated to bring forward information needed for the prosecution. Doug Hoffner, acting Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) secretary, released the following statement:

“I am proud of Cal/OSHA’s response to this terrible incident and am encouraged by the extent of cooperation between the State and District Attorney Willett’s office. Since Governor Schwarzenegger led the charge in 2006 to make permanent the heat illness prevention regulations, Cal/OSHA has been working diligently to ensure employers know their responsibilities and that workers know their rights. Make no mistake, heat illness prevention regulations are in place to protect employees. The State will continue to not only pursue and fine employers who don’t follow these important safe guards, but also to work with all local law enforcement agencies in assisting in the prosecution of those who contribute to the deaths of their workers.”

In July 2008, Cal/OSHA issued six citations, and assessed fines of $262,700 against Merced Farm Labor Contractor. The fines are the largest assessed to an agricultural firm in Cal/OSHA’s history, the agency said. In addition, Cal/OSHA issued a stop work order prohibiting the employer from using any employee labor after investigators found workers were continuing to be exposed to the same workplace hazards that led to the death of Ms. Jimenez.

On June 4, 2008, the California Labor Commissioner moved to revoke Merced Farm Labor’s license for providing false information. Merced Farm Labor Contractor surrendered its license soon thereafter.

For more information regarding California’s heat illness prevention regulations please go to http://www.dir.ca.gov/DOSH/HeatIllnessInfo.html