Saturday, December 2, 2023

Tragedy Strikes Carrot Field: Workers Allege Being Instructed to Continue Picking Despite Nearby Fatality

Tragedy Strikes Carrot Field: Workers Allege Being Instructed to Continue Picking Despite Nearby Fatality

A tragedy unfolded in a carrot field in New Cuyama as Miriam del Carmen Ramirez lost her mother, Rosa Miriam Sanchez, in a harrowing accident. The 58-year-old Sanchez was struck by a truck driving in reverse while Ramirez and a crew of approximately 60 workers were returning to pick carrots.

Ramirez, who witnessed the incident, rushed to her mother's side as she succumbed to her injuries, making a desperate 911 call. Shockingly, amidst the unfolding tragedy, workers at Grimmway Farms, where the incident occurred, claim they were instructed to resume picking carrots while Sanchez's lifeless body lay nearby under a blanket. This callous directive has sparked outrage among the laborers.

The incident on September 20 in Santa Barbara County has prompted investigations by Grimmway Farms and Cal/OSHA, the state agency overseeing workplace safety. While the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office deemed the crash an accident, farmworkers are demanding an investigation into the handling of the incident and expressing safety concerns about the involved truck and driver.

Ernesto Perez, a witness and farmworker, criticized the decision to continue working, stating, "Even a worker losing their life wasn’t going to stop them from finishing the work. We’re just a piece of trash for them."

In response, Grimmway Farms issued a statement expressing condolences for Sanchez's death and asserting an ongoing internal investigation. The company denies issuing the directive to continue work but acknowledges that operations should have ceased immediately.

Ramirez and fellow farmworkers are seeking an inquiry into the handling of the incident, emphasizing concerns about the truck and driver's safety. Cal/OSHA is conducting an investigation into the matter, scrutinizing the contractors involved, including Esparza Enterprises Inc. (which hired the workers) and M & M Labor Inc. (which employed the driver).

The farmworkers, often supervised by contractors, are concerned about the industry's disregard for their well-being, emphasizing that monetary interests seem to override their safety. Some workers have chosen to leave their jobs due to the traumatic incident, highlighting the need for systemic changes to prioritize the safety and dignity of agricultural laborers.

Grimmway Farms is collaborating with contractors to enhance vehicle safety measures, installing cameras and alarms. Witnesses claim they had previously raised concerns about the truck and driver, including issues with reversing alerts and high-speed driving, but Grimmway Farms maintains it was unaware of these concerns.

The tragedy has left the affected workers traumatized, prompting some to seek alternative employment. Ernesto Perez, profoundly affected by the loss of Sanchez, voiced his conviction, saying, "After seeing that, I can’t go back to that." Miriam del Carmen Ramirez and her younger brother are planning to relocate, hoping to find a sense of normalcy after the devastating incident.

In Other SMH America News

In New Mexico, a 23-year-old gunman wearing a red MAGA hat opened fire last week on Jacob Johns and other Indigenous activists opposing plans to reinstall a statue honoring the 16th century conquistador Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first colonial governor. Johns, the prominent climate activist, was airlifted from Española to an Albuquerque hospital and required emergency surgery. We speak with Malaya Peixinho, who participated in Thursday’s gathering, about how the statue of the colonial leader has divided the local community. “It is a really controversial thing to talk about Oñate,” says Peixinho, who believes funds for the statue could go to social programs instead. “That feels more important than funding a statue being resurrected.” The shooter, Ryan Martinez, was arrested and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for shooting Johns and aiming the gun at Peixinho, who calls the charges “fair” and blames police for not intervening. “They didn’t show up for us,” says Peixinho.


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