Although heat illness-related incidents have decreased significantly over the past three years, the California Assembly ignored already stringent heat illness rules on the books and passed another bill targeting agriculture alone. Assembly Bill 2346 aims to add impossible requirements to these rules along with punitive fines up to $200,000 for farmer violations.
“Our workers are valuable to us and we fully support heat stress regulations that ensure farm worker safety and health. But this is an unnecessary bill that is just a thinly veiled ploy by a labor union trying to demonstrate its legitimacy,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers.
Industry has conducted hundreds of training sessions around the state, reaching thousands of farmers, crew supervisors, managers and human resources directors.
In a recent press release, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Chief Ellen Widess said, “We are pleased that years of continuous outreach, education and enforcement have resulted in fewer worker deaths and illnesses from exposure to heat.”
But despite the landmark improvements and already beefed-up heat illness regulations currently in effect, the California Assembly voted 41-27 to pass AB 2346.
“AB 2346 would warp the state’s heat illness regulations in ways that no farmer can implement,” said Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton) in debating the bill May 31 on the Assembly floor. “It simply attacks an entire industry. This, make no mistake, is an attack on farmers.”
“California’s family farmers are already working at many levels to make sure heat-illness related incidents are prevented. Farmers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on portable shade units, ice machines and other tools to make sure farm workers have shade and cool water on the job,” Nassif said.
In 2005, California was the first state in the nation to adopt heat illness regulations. The regulation was strengthened in 2010 to include high heat provisions for five industries including agriculture.
AB 2346, also known as the “sue your employer” bill, establishes crippling fines for violations and contains “bounty hunter” provisions that encourage employees and legal aid groups to sue employers even though stiff penalties against violators already exist under the regulations. The law aims to create a private right of action, opening the door to abusive lawsuits by revenue-seeking legal aid groups.