Two farmworkers died while working in Santa Barbara County in separate incidents within the past two months, prompting local advocacy groups to speak out.
Jose Samuel Velásquez, 22, was run over by a tractor and died on September 7 while working in the fields at Rancho Guadalupe near Santa Maria. On September 20, Rosa Sanchez, 58, was killed when a truck ran her over twice while she was picking carrots at Grimmway Farms in New Cuyama.
Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) issued a statement last week calling for action. “Farmworker lives are not disposable, but are treated as such! (Las vidas de los campesinos no son desechables, ¡pero son tratadas así!)” the statement read.
The organizations stated concerns over the lack of safety and enforcement, but also the dehumanized way in which the companies approached these two tragic cases.
CAUSE and MICOP state workers at Grimmway Farms were forced to continue picking carrots while Sanchez’ body was close by and the truck that struck her did not have an alarm that would alert workers when it was reversing. “This is not the first time a worker was hit by one of these trucks,” the organizations stated.
The Los Angeles Times also reported workers were told to finish picking the carrot fields while Sanchez’s body lay under a blanket a few feet away and authorities inquired about the incident.
In a public statement, President and CEO of Grimmway Farms, Jeff Huckaby, stated an internal investigation is underway but Sanchez was not a Grimmway Farms employee and he believed it was not his company that ordered farmworkers to keep working.
“We are heartbroken by Ms. Sanchez’s death and for all those impacted by this accident,” the statement read. “Based on early findings from our ongoing internal investigations, we do not believe a directive was made by Grimmway to continue work on the day of the accident. However, it is evident that work should have ceased immediately.”
Sanchez was reportedly employed by Esparza Enterprises Inc. and M & M Labor Inc. hired the unidentified driver.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office ruled the death accidental and Cal/OSHA has opened an investigation into the incident.
CAUSE and MICOP say enough is enough. “How many lives will we have to lose to get the attention of our politicians and local authorities? How many families will have to lose their loved ones due to lack of regulation and support for our farmworkers?” the organizations stated.
Earlier that same month Velásquez died from traumatic injuries after he was run over by a tractor at Rancho Guadalupe. The incident remains under investigation.
CAUSE and MICOP state this reveals a systemic issue involving government agencies that shows the lack of commitment, diligence, and assertive reaction to these type of situations in which families, friends and co-workers are mentally, emotionally, and economically affected and without any type of support, guidance, or guarantees.
The organizations continue by stating farmworkers are an essential part of the food system, yet remain unseen.
“Missing a day of work or an entire paycheck could mean the difference between being able to feed their families or go hungry, even though their work brings food to the tables of families across our nation. They work long, hard days, handling dangerous equipment and chemicals all for low wages,” they stated.
CAUSE and MCOP wrote they condemn the unsafe working conditions that led to the two deaths and warned this should be very alarming not only for the local authorities but at the state and national levels.
“We need to be more vigilant, provide more resources, and demand that growers provide adequate training to supervisors and workers about safety practices at the workplace,” the groups said.
MICOP and CAUSE ended their statement by urging local representatives to strengthen workplace enforcement to ensure that current safety standards and regulations that provide protection to farmworkers are followed by agricultural employers.
“Rosa and Jose… You are not alone. We are here to preserve your memory, defend, and advocate for the life and well-being of our community,” the statement read.