FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IR #2008-56
August 27, 2008

CONTACT:
Erika Monterroza
Dean Fryer
(415) 703-5050
Internet: www.dir.ca.gov


Merced Farm Labor Surrenders License to Labor Commissioner Days Before Revocation Hearing

San Francisco—August 27, 2008—An Atwater-based farm labor contractor fined last month for work safety violations stemming from the heat death of a 17-year-old farm worker surrendered its license to operate for three years, the Department of Industrial Relations announced Wednesday.

The company, Merced Farm Labor Contractor (Merced FLC), surrendered its license three days before a license revocation hearing was scheduled to be held.  In doing so, Merced agreed to the maximum revocation period of three years sought by the Labor Commissioner.

Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet sought the license revocation because the company provided false information on its application for renewal in 2007, stating that it had no outstanding safety citations when, in fact, it had failed to abate 2006 heat illness violations. The company also failed to comply with the requirement to maintain a safe working environment for farm employees.

“This sends a strong message to all farm labor contractors: if you falsify information on your application or fail to provide the required level of protection for employees you can lose your license,” said Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet. “We were fully prepared to precede with the revocation proceedings and Merced’s surrender of its license for the maximum period is recognition of the strength of our case.”

Maria Vasquez Jimenez died on May 14 after she became ill while working as an employee of Merced FLC in a San Joaquin County vineyard in high heat for nine hours with little water and no shade.

Last month, the DIR’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) issued six citations, three of which are serious and willful and assessed fines of $262,700 against Merced FLC. The fines are the largest assessed to an agricultural firm since the heat illness prevention regulations were implemented in 2005. Merced Farm Labor also faces possible criminal charges in San Joaquin County.

Under Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership, California became the first state in the nation to develop a safety and health regulation addressing heat illness in 2005.

For more information on heat illness prevention and training materials visit the Cal/OSHA Web site at http://www.dir.ca.gov/heatillness . Employees with work-related questions or complaints may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.

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