By Lauren Martinez Tuesday, June 27, 2023
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- California has cited two Northern California mushroom farms for health and safety violations and proposed more than $165,000 in potential fines five months after a farmworker killed seven people in back-to-back shootings on the farms in Half Moon Bay.
Chunli Zhao, who had worked at the farms, is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the Jan. 23 shootings that stunned the small coastal community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of San Francisco. He has pleaded not guilty.
Authorities say Zhao opened fire at California Terra Garden, where he previously worked, killing four co-workers and wounding another one. They said he then drove about 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) to Concord Farms, a mushroom farm he was fired from in 2015, and shot to death three workers.
The tragedy exposed working and living conditions at two mushroom farms. Since then, state workplace investigators have been investigating.
The state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as CAL/OSHA, filed 22 violations against California Terra Garden, Inc. and proposes $113,800 in fines, according to a Monday news release. Concord Farms faces 19 violations and $51,770 in fines.
The violations at California Terra Garden include an alleged failure to have a plan in place to notify employees of an active shooter threat and to tell them to take shelter. Violations at Concord Farms include a failure to address prior workplace violence and to develop a plan to prevent more in the future.
The state says both farms failed to establish a workplace safety plan that include training workers in a language they can understand like Spanish or Mandarin. Both farms are also accused of not securing property permits for onsite worker housing.
Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, an advocate for farmworkers and founder of ALAS, says they provided support for these farmworkers.
"Of course when we were there we saw snapshots of their day but not the extension of their day," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
She described housing as something farmworkers basically made on their own.
"There was trailers, campers and what we eventually saw that was storage containers, you know a couple of those that were housing none of us knew that was actual housing," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
Hernandez-Arriaga says these violations are not uncommon.
"We see this across our country, we see this across California, violations are happening all the time with our farmworker community," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
She says the Cal/OSHA filings is a reminder to continue the fight for basic human rights and workplace safety for farmworkers.
"I frankly am glad you know today was a stand that we will not tolerate these conditions. It is our hope that this will bring about change - it's sad that it took this tragedy to have to make this happen," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
Most of the farmworkers in the area are Latino and the two mushrooms farms are among the few that employ Chinese workers, advocates have said.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.