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Farmworker dies in Fresno County after working in extreme heat. ‘He should not have died.’

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and United Farm Worker President Teresa Romero held a press conference at the Forty Acres in Delano, Calif. to call attention to legislation that establish heat regulation standards for workers nationwide.
Office of U.S. Senator Alex Padilla
U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and United Farm Worker President Teresa Romero held a press conference at the Forty Acres in Delano, Calif. to call attention to legislation that establish heat regulation standards for workers nationwide.

DELANO, Calif. – Elidio Hernandez Gomez was working in the tomatillo fields near Selma on Aug. 8 when he started to feel the effects of heat exhaustion.

He told his boss he wasn’t feeling well. According to the United Farm Workers, Hernandez Gomez was told to keep working. He soon collapsed.

The union says Hernandez Gomez died in the field, and his fellow workers were instructed to take him to Adventist Health in Selma.

The Fresno County Coroner’s office said heat was not a factor in Hernandez Gomez’s death, but confirmed he died due to heart failure. CDC research, however, shows people with heart conditions are more vulnerable under extreme heat. On the day Hernandez Gomez died, temperatures reached 100 degrees.

Cal/OSHA stated in an email to KVPR the employer did not report the death, as is required by law.

“He should not have died,” UFW President Teresa Romero said at a press conference Friday at the Forty Acres in Delano, the first headquarters of the United Farm Workers labor union. “Elidio deserved better. His family deserves better.”

According to Romero, the union will help the Hernandez Gomez family report and verify the death to Cal/OSHA.

Worker death highlights need for heat regulations

For the farmworker union and others, Hernandez Gomez’s death highlights the dangers of working under extreme heat.

While there are some protections for outdoor workers in California, there is no federal heat standard.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla’s bill – the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury, and Fatality Prevention Act of 2023 – would require employers nationwide to provide access to cool water, ample shade, and paid breaks.

“This is not just an issue of workers rights,” Padilla said at the press conference. “It cuts to the moral heart of our nation. And yes, we need to do more.”

Padilla called on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden to support the bill.

The family of Hernandez Gomez started a GoFundMe page, where donations will help fund his burial in Guanajuato, Mexico.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.