Farmworker dies in Fresno heat. UFW & Sen. Padilla wants stronger protection!

After farmworker’s death in Fresno-area heat, UFW and Sen. Padilla say it’s time for stronger protections at work.

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and the United Farm Workers union say a recent death in a tomatillo field was due to heat, but a coroner’s report doesn’t back that up.

As Fresno-area temperatures sizzled around 100 recently, a 59-year-old tomatillo field worker collapsed and died.

The coroner listed the cause of death as cardiovascular disease caused by cholesterol buildup; the farmworkers’ union blamed it on working in such heat.

“Elidio Hernández should not have died,” said United Farm Workers president Teresa Romero at a Friday press conference in Delano. “Elidio had two young daughters who now don’t have a father.”

The case shines a spotlight on the effectiveness of a California law designed to protect workers laboring outdoors in searing temperatures — and it took center stage at a press conference called by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla to push federal legislation that would impose stronger federal heat protections in workplaces.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla at a roundtable discussion with organizers and farmworkers in Delano on Aug. 18, 2023. Photo by Julie Leopo-Bermudez for CalMatters

Romero said the 59-year-old father of two, whose full name is Elidio Hernández Gómez, reported feeling ill to his supervisor but did not receive help. After he collapsed, his supervisor and coworkers did not report the incident, she said, but his coworkers were told to take him to a hospital.

National weather services reported temperatures in the Fresno area around 100 degrees on Aug 8. A coroner’s report said he was pronounced dead at 1:44 pm.

The coroner’s report says Hernández Gómez’s death was due to ​​atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which is when cholesterol plaque builds up in arteries, obstructing blood flow.

There was no evidence showing whether heat played a role in his death, said Tony Botti, spokesperson for the Fresno County Coroner’s office.

Romero did not disclose the names of the employer or the workers. CalMatters has been unable to identify Hernández Gómez’s employer or to speak to his family members or coworkers.

Romero said the union and the United Farmworkers Foundation are assisting the family but family members fear retaliation. Hernández Gómez’s sister-in-law, Ana Navarro, told the Fresno Bee the family is still searching for answers and just wants to “know what really happened.”

Some of Hernández Gómez’s relatives have organized a GoFundMe page to raise money to send his body back to his native Guanajuato in Mexico. The page says Hernández Gómez died from a heart attack caused by working in the heat.

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