Calls on health-conscious grocery chain to toughen vendor policies in light of recent death of young worker at “Two Buck Chuck” vinyard
By Jennie Rodriguez / Record Staff Writer / July 06, 2008
United Farm Workers last week launched a campaign asking food retailer Trader Joe’s to toughen its vendor policies. The labor union is connecting the grocery chain to the May 16 death of Lodi resident Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who collapsed May 14 while pruning in a West Coast Grape Farming vineyard in Farmington.
The connection: West Coast Grape Farming is owned by the Franzia family, which also owns Bronco Wine Co., which produces Charles Shaw wines. The selection of wines, sometimes known as Two Buck Chuck, are exclusively sold at Trader Joe’s, which caters to health-conscious consumers. Trader Joe’s has a store in Lincoln Center in Stockton. Jimenez, 17, was under the supervision of Merced Farm Labor, the contractor who supplied the vineyard’s labor.
“We commend Trader Joe’s for having a cage-free policy for eggs sold. It speaks to the concerns for the chickens. We simply ask that they consider a dialogue with us, so they enact a similar policy for farm worker employees. Farm workers deserve the same type of protection,” said Roman Pinal, a union organizer.
The criticism isn’t stopping some frequent patrons. “I like cooking healthy. Here I find fair prices, a lot of healthy and foreign foods you can’t find at other grocery stores,” Emmanuel Aguayo, a 20-year-old San Joaquin Delta College student, said Wednesday afternoon.
However, Aguayo worries that the store’s image of promoting health might be tarnished if it doesn’t accept responsibility. Merced Farm Labor had been cited in 2006 for heat violations. The state revoked its license after Jimenez’s death and has placed its owners under investigation. The San Joaquin County coroner classified her death as an occupational heat death.
Alison Mochizuki, a Trader Joe’s spokeswoman, said in a written statement that the vineyard where Jimenez pruned does not supply grapes for Charles Shaw wines. “The company employing the young farm worker has no more of a relation to Trader Joe’s than they do to any other wine retailer or restaurant,” Mochizuki said.
The union’s “Tell Trader Joe’s to Chuck the Excuses” campaign asks supporters to sign a statement and send it to the grocer via e-mail.
Mochizuki said the company already implements strict policies for its vendors.
“Our vendors have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting, if not exceeding, government standards,” Mochizuki said.
Pinal called the reply a “disheartening attempt to try to distance themselves.”
Contact reporter Jennie Rodriguez at (209) 943-8564 or firstname.lastname@example.org.