Eric Bauman, the openly gay Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) and the Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party, sent out an “important voter alert” robo-call over the weekend drawing attention to a surge of independent expenditures from “corporate agri-business interests” against LGBT ally Assemblymember Betsy Butler, a candidate for the 50th Assembly District that runs from Malibu and Santa Monica to West Hollywood.
This is not just a local beef. Tom Nassif, President and CEO of the Western Growers Association, is one of six national chairs for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Farmers and Ranchers for Romney coalition. The Western Growers Association vigorously opposed Butler’s AB 2346, the Farm Worker Safety Act of 2012 to protect farm workers from fatal heat illness, which they called the “sue your employer” bill. The bill would have ensured that water and shade are provided to California’s more than 400,000 farm workers who labor on more than 35,000 California farms and would have more severely punish non-compliance by making the growers liable for heat-related illness. Further, it establishes a private right of action so that farm workers can hold their employers accountable under the law.
But for Butler and the United Farm Workers, this is literally about life and death: 17 farm workers were confirmed to have died between 2004-2011 from heat-related illnesses. And, as I reported last Tuesday, Oct. 9, AP reported on Oct. 3, that an unidentified 51 year old farm supervisor on a Salinas Valley farm died Monday, Oct. 1 of a heart attack while working outside in the “95-plus-degree weather on a Dole Fresh farm near Soledad when he collapsed.” Butler had that death on her mind as she headed up to Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz in Keene where President Obama designated the home of Cesar Chavez—the place where he led the United Farm Workers movement from the 1970s until the early 1990s—as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Butler said that this man’s death makes five heat-related deaths this year.
At that historic event, Obama noted that when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta started the farm worker movement, “no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation’s food—bent down in the beating sun, living in poverty, cheated by growers, abandoned in old age, unable to demand even the most basic rights.”
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