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"I can no longer bend over:" A Farm worker Testifies


In 1972 Maurice "Mo" Jourdane, a young staff attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance organization, petitioned the California Division of Industrial Safety for the prohibition of the short-handled hoe. He gathered testimonies from farm workers and doctors to illustrate the physical dangers of the hoe. The author of this statement, Jesus Serrano, lived in the Salinas Valley of California for most of his life. Here, he explains that growers like the short-handled hoe because it gave them more control and allowed them to see when they were resting.

I, Jesus Serrano, hereby declare: I started working in the fields when I was 13 years old. Back in New Mexico we thinned and cleaned around the plants with a long handle hoe. Cotton was the main plant we worked with; there were also sugar beets, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes and cauliflower. My folks later migrated to California in search of better jobs and better pay.

After working for several years with the cortito I was hired as a crew pusher (mayordomo) in 1958. I was a crew pusher for 10 years. Starting in 1968 I became disabled, and now I can no longer bend over.

During my working years my friends used to make fun of me because of the way I walked, bent forward like a gorilla, which is caused by working with a cortito. I consider myself an experienced man with both hoes, short and long. Being a crew pusher I found out that the growers believe that they can get more work out of the people by only allowing hoes with a short handle. The grower has more control over the workers when he has them working with a short-handled hoe, because he can see they are resting when they stand up.

I swear under the penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

Dated: March 20, 1970


Declaration of Jesus Serrano, (Exhibit C) in Sebastian Carmona, et. al., "Petition that Division of Industrial Safety Prohibit the Use of the Short Handled Hoe," State of California Industrial Safety Board. Courtesy of Douglas Murray.

Thought to be introduced to California farming at the end of the 19th century by Chinese workers, the short-handled hoe required workers to stoop over as they used it to cultivate crops. Working with the short-handled hoe had long term consequences for agricultural laborers. In 1972, Maurice Jourdane and the California Rural Assistance League began a legal battle to have the tool banned in California. In 1975, the California State Supreme Court ruled that it was an "unsafe hand tool" and, therefore, banned under California state law.