Earlier this summer, a major settlement was reached in two lawsuits, filed in 2009 and 2012, alleging failures to protect farm workers from heat illness and death. The lawsuits, titled Bautista, et al v. State of California, et al., were filed against Cal/OSHA by individual farm workers, the United Farm Workers, and the UFW Foundation.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Cal/OSHA has revised its policies and procedures, state inspectors will focus on outdoor workplaces during periods of high heat, the UFW will report potential violations of the heat regulations to Cal/OSHA, confidential internal audits of Cal/OSHA heat enforcement will be conducted, and formal declarations will be taken from workers in the field during heat inspections.
However, it appears UFW is actively conducting a campaign to access agriculture worksites above and beyond the terms of the settlement agreement. It appears that UFW agents are gaining unauthorized access to agricultural worksites to distribute “educational” literature about heat illness prevention. The literature contains the insignia of both the UFW and Cal/OSHA. Without proper service of a valid Notice of Access to an employer, pursuant to the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the UFW has no right to access worksites for “educational” purposes. UFW’s access to agricultural worksites appears to be an attempt to gain access to employees in order to generate allegations of violations of heat illness standards.
Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC is currently advising employers that have recently received access notices and other communications from the UFW. If you have any questions regarding communication attempts by the UFW and/or a Notice of Access, please contact our office at 559-421-7000.