By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a pair of bills that would have increased civil and criminal penalties for farmers who fail to adequately protect their workers from heat.
The governor vetoed Assembly Bill 2676, which would have imposed fines and jail time to agricultural employers who don't provide enough shade and water to their workers.
He also nixed Assembly Bill 2346, which would have let laborers sue their employers and their customers if they failed to supply water within 10 feet or shade within 200 feet of workers.
In his veto messages, Brown said California's outdoor heat standards are the most stringent in the nation and that compliance has been improving each year, from a low of 32 percent in 2006 to more than 80 percent this year.
"While I believe enforcement of our heat standards can be improved, I am not convinced that creating a new crime -- and a crime that applies only to one group of employers -- is the answer," Brown wrote. "Instead, we should continue to enforce our stringent standards for the benefit of all workers in all industries."
The vetoes were cheered by the California Farm Bureau Federation, which has argued that ag leaders worked with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) to develop rules that assure adequate water, shade, rest breaks, training and emergency preparedness for people who work outside in hot weather.
CFBF President Paul Wenger said he was a bit surprised Brown vetoed both bills, though he had tried to remain optimistic.
"We asked," he said. "The governor is under a great deal of pressure from the (United Farm Workers), so he cut through the political clutter and did the right thing in our viewpoint."
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said he was "deeply saddened" that Brown "chose politics over the life of a human being." He said more stringent penalties would have been justified because lives of workers are at stake.
"We're talking about the bad actors in the industry, the growers that repeatedly refuse to obey the law," Rodriguez said. "If somebody out there is not really caring and not really interested in doing what needs to be done ... we should go after them because that's how farmworkers die all the time."
At least 14 farmworkers have died of heat-related causes since 2005, when California adopted the nation's first rules requiring water and shade for the state's 450,000 farmworkers, the AP has reported. Two deaths this summer are being investigated.
Under AB2676, violations of the current standards would have been classified as misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine. If a violation resulted in injury, farmers could have faced up to a year in a county jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier said this summer he wrote the bill after he discovered existing law provides greater heat protections for livestock than farmworkers.
Under AB2346, employers found to have forced workers to labor in unsafe conditions would have had to pay up to $1 million in restitution.
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina del Rey, said she didn't think CalOSHA was doing enough to protect field workers from heat-related illness and death.
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com/
United Farm Workers: http://www.ufw.org/