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What Killed These Three Vineyard Workers in California’s Central Valley?

United Farm Workers—America’s largest farm workers union—is reporting that the three farm workers who died last week on three separate vineyards in California were suffering from undue heat exposure.
August 5, 2016, 10:00pm
Photo via Flickr user jcookfisher

United Farm Workers—America's largest farm workers union—is reporting that the three farm workers who died last week on three separate vineyards in California were suffering from undue heat exposure.

All of the deaths took place in Kern County in California's fertile Central Valley. However, the Kern County coroner's office is disputing that heat was a factor in at least one of the women's deaths, who fell ill after working in the hot sun. In a statement, the coroner said that 60-year-old farm worker Galdina Perez Alvarez died of natural causes and had a pre-existing heart condition.

The second death was reported on a vineyard in McFarland, California. In that case, the woman felt so unwell that she went to vomit in the bathroom, and after being sick, she fainted. An ambulance was called, but it allegedly took more than an hour to arrive at the farm and was too late to save her.

READ MORE: How the Weed Industry Is Affecting California's Vineyards

The circumstances of the third woman's death are still fuzzy, but it's known that she died while working on a farm in nearby Delano, California. Though it did not dispute the coroner's findings, UFW has said that they will continue their own investigation into the deaths, especially based on reports from other witnesses that the farms where the workers died did not have adequate shade, and that conditions were so bad that "people were taking cover under the vineyards, people were trying to take cover under cars."

The UFW was founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, who was no stranger to Kern County. Today, Chavez is considered a national hero and is most famous for leading a boycott of grapes in California for better workers' rights, and supporting vineyard workers' strikes in, among other places, Delano.