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Woman: Workers picked tomatoes as pesticide sprayed

Posted September 10, 2008

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— A woman testified Wednesday that she and other workers were forced to pick tomatoes on a Brunswick County farm shortly after they had been sprayed with pesticides.

Francisca Herrera's testimony came in the second day of a hearing by the North Carolina Pesticide Board into possible violations by the manager of a farm owned by commercial tomato grower Ag-Mart. Jeff Oxley is accused of more than 200 violations for allegedly forcing workers back in the fields too soon after pesticides were applied.

State officials began to investigate the pesticide use in 2004 after several workers, including Herrera, gave birth to babies with deformities. Herrera's son has no arms or legs.

Speaking through an interpreter, the 22-year-old woman said working in the Ag-Mart fields would make her ill, but she was told that she needed to work.

"Even on my first day, I remember getting a headache almost immediately, and I had never got a headache like this," she testified. "My boss would always be saying, 'You came to this country to work, not to rest.'"

Herrera had to quiet her son, Carlitos, at the beginning of her testimony, and her husband wound up taking the boy outside the building after defense attorney Mark Ash objected to her holding the boy in her arms as she testified.

Tomato plants were sometimes wet with pesticides when workers were told to pick the fruit, she said. The wind also blew pesticides on the workers as they picked fruit several rows of plants away from where trucks were spraying, she said.

"I did not see any signs at that time that indicate you shouldn't go close or shouldn't touch or anything like that," she said.

Under cross-examination, Herrera said that Oxley usually wasn't in the field when she was working and that she never saw him give instructions to anyone about spraying the fields.

Earlier Wednesday, a state investigator went through the spraying and planting spreadsheets he used to conclude that workers were sent too early into sprayed fields in roughly 200 cases.

The state rested its case late Wednesday.

The case has been continued until Nov. 5.

Ag-Mart has denied any wrongdoing but settled out of court with Herrera. Defense attorneys argued that Herrera’s testimony should not have been allowed because the state needs to prove exactly when the fields were sprayed and where in the field the workers were picking.

If the Pesticide Board finds that Oxley violated state and federal regulations by forcing workers into the fields too soon after spraying, he could be fined up to $100,000.

34 Comments

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  • familyfour Sep 11, 2008

    If this story listed a woman and child of any other race, I think it would be on the top voted topics. That's pityful what has happened to that child. It probably was the pesticide, that stuff is BAD. I don't believe that either rep's or dem's would SAY they support this kind of employer behavior..... but, we all know the government's best friend is the farmer.

  • Bendal1 Sep 11, 2008

    Some people here (and you know who I'm talking about) automatically assumed "illegal worker" when they saw her photograph. They may have even made that assumption when they saw her name in the article. Once they made that assumption, in their minds anything else became irrelevent; not that she worked in a field while pregnant where the crops were sprayed with pestacides, not that she had a deformed child, or anything else.

    Just "aha, ILLEGAL ALIEN!"

  • 45ACP Sep 11, 2008

    Where does it say that any tests were done to prove the defects were caused by chemicals?

    This is like saying that everyone who has cancer ate a hamburger, therefore the hamburger must have caused the cancer.

    Liberal spin.

  • twoboys Sep 11, 2008

    First of all, this is nothing like slavery, and I'm sure anyone who knows someone that was a slave is VERY offended...This lady was being paid to do this job. In America, you usually have the option to either do your job or find another one or maybe not find another if you're having a hard time getting through or around the legal paper work. My second point here is if the maximum fine for this company is 100,000 then this woman must have settled for much less. Make it about something real if you're going to sue someone. To be sure her child's limbs are worth more than what she settled for, and if it was real, she should have quit her job and then sued the company.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 11, 2008

    Francisca Herrera and her son Carlitos are human beings. How do YOU treat fellow humans? Do you ask them their immigration status, skin color or religion before you think they should get justice...or emergency medical aid for that matter?

    It's those derogatory comments here that show how bigoted and uncaring the "conservatives" of this country can be. So, "conservatives"... Are these your "family values" you're so proud of?

  • idontwantascreenname Sep 11, 2008

    Thank You tarheelalum

  • tarheelalum Sep 11, 2008

    I would honestly prefer that the ignorant individuals in this forum left the country before any otherwise law-abiding non-us citizen. Nowhere in this article does it say she was an illegal alien and assuming as much exhibits your own ignorance. This is a horrible situation and this man shouldn't only be fined, he should be sent to prison. I also don't think the actual company that owns the farm, but doesn't manage it should get off. It is people like many of you posters that make me ashamed of much of our society.

  • B.T.D.B Sep 11, 2008

    "dhamma"
    You pretty much covered everything! Some of you people are just so ridiculous!

    And maybe she was legal! You don't know....and it shouldn't even matter!
    Also, it was her choice to working there, but like alot of people nowadays, you kinda gotta do whatcha can to get by. Sometimes that may be doing things you don't want to do. Either way you look at it, you don't know her situation, or her! And for some of you to sit here and place judgement and say she's an ilegal imm. And because of that, she certainly deserves what had happened to her and her boy! Some of you are disgusting! And I truly hope that the ones making these comments aren't teaching your children the same!

  • ncguy Sep 11, 2008

    A woman testified Wednesday that she and other workers were forced to pick tomatoes on a Brunswick County farm shortly after they had been sprayed with pesticides.

    While I feel for her situation, I have a problem the way the article was written.

    She was forced? What did he hold a gun to her head?

    She could have left at any time, but chose not to.

  • FaceDown-AKA_Maggie Sep 11, 2008

    Something is very wrong with you if you wish ill on someone just because of their immigration status.
    Abuse is abuse. What is happening to our society when we nullify human right because of a piece of paper. . .Something is seriously wrong here. If anyone can morally justify it, I question their morals. . .

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