The United Farm Workers union gave its support Monday to a bill in the California state legislature that would empower workers to enforce compliance with a law protecting them from excess heat on the job.

"At least 16 farm workers have died since 2005," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said, referring to the year when the original law was passed. "Since all of these deaths were preventable, it's clear the regulation is not being enforced. Evidence exposed by our lawsuit shows the problem is in fact getting worse."

The California Occupational Safety and Health Program, known as Cal/OSHA, is not applying the regulations for protecting workers from heat in the fields strictly enough, according to the union.

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Bill AB 2346, introduced by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, a Democrat from Los Angeles, would allow farm workers "to enforce mandatory shade and drinking water requirements by taking delinquent employers to court in the tradition of a citizen's arrest," the UFW said.

In 2009 the UFW filed suit against the state of California proving that Cal/OSHA issued not a single summons in more than 140 cases in which its inspectors uncovered serious problems of noncompliance with laws governing the problem of excess heat.

In the summer of 2011 the UFW filed more than 75 complaints about serious illnesses caused by excess heat, but Cal/OSHA issued subpoenas in only three of those cases.

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