One Sorry Grape

© Peter Rousmaniere

published by WorkCompCentral August 3, 2015

America, you need to see this from my point of view: a dark red Flame Seedless grape. I know how nice humans are, but they can do strange things.

I was born in the spring of 2015 in the city in Coachella, east of Palm Springs, California. I had as sunny a childhood as a table grape could have with my bunch of siblings, fattening in temperatures that soared above 100 almost daily in June and July. Lucia was my first human friend. She was from Michoacan, Mexico. She and her husband, Roberto, have been working the grape harvest as it moves from south to north, starting in July. They have two children, American born. They’ve avoided deportation.

Lucia picks the grapes. She works under the sun that sweetened my bunch, but that also gave Lucia heatstroke a few years ago. The safety guys in the state are worried about farm worker deaths from heat.

One morning at 7, she decided my bunch was pretty enough to snip off, trim and drop into a container. When she filled the container, a nice man wheelbarrowed it to the end of the row of vines to Roberto, who lifted it up into a truck, as he’s done for 10 years, but ola!, this time he fell off the back and badly sprained his ankle. Thank God the couple’s farm was required to have workers’ comp insurance.

After the farm bagged and repacked my bunch and placed it onto a pallet, we had a short ride to a large warehouse where so very many trucks visit every day. A forklift truck helped to move my pallet off the truck and into a storage area. The forklift driver, a man from the Punjab, when turning a corner… ola! nicked a stake of filled pallets, which fell on another worker. The kick-ass and take-names guy showed up.

Perhaps these accidents happened because it is the beginning of the grape season and Roberto and other workers need a few days to relearn their jobs. I’d heard through the vine that one of every five work injuries in this wonderful country happens to an immigrant.

By the next morning, my bunch was on a truck heading for the East Coast!

I, part of 50,000 pounds of grapes, was chilling in a temperature-controlled, satellite-connected, over-the-road tractor-semi trailer on its three-day, 2,800 mile ride. Joel, from Arkansas, was at the wheel. He put in the legal limit of 11 hours driving for a shift before a required 10-hour break. He did his bathroom or coffee breaks in the shortest possible amount of time. He slept in the tractor’s sleeper.

Joel stopped at Council Bluff, Iowa, to refuel – 300 gallons. His 10-hour stop in Youngstown, Ohio, was not happy. Over-the-road trucks these days have fewer foot and hand holds outside the truck, to make air flow better. Joel needed to clean the windshield. He opened the hood, climbed on top of a tire and leaned over the engine while using a squeegee. Ola! he slipped, fell to the ground and badly bruised his right shoulder.

The company he worked for found another driver to take over, while a workers’ comp insurer paid for Joel’s recovery. He’ll soon see the inside of an MRI in Jonesboro; maybe also the inside of a lawyer’s office, if the insurer doesn’t pay attention to Joel.

On the third day, the driver pulled into Hunt’s Point Produce Market in the Bronx. Even endives know this is the hub of New York City. Some lumpers hired by the trucking company offloaded us grapes. Very soon, we bid goodbye to most of the grapes in the shipment. I was part of a smaller order that was driven to a warehouse in Queens. No accidents in the city so far.

The next morning, my bunch met a nice man, Mr. Jin Kim. He loaded us into his 1998 General Motors van with other fresh produce. Mr. Kim does this six days a week, often with his 7 and 4-year-old children in tow, because his wife is working also six days a week at Gristedes. Mr. Kim’s customers are mostly Korean-owned groceries in Queens. One of his customers is Best Grocery, on Main St. in Flushing. Mr. Kim was bringing boxes down the stairs from the street to the basement when he fell. Ola!

The store owner called 911. An ambulance whisked him to Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Emergency Department. I was with him – when he was sorting out the grape bunches, he put one grape (me) into his pocket.

Many people inspected Mr. Kim, his 7-year-old daughter sometimes interpreting, and told him his left arm was fractured. We waited a long time in the Emergency Department for the arm to be set. A patient accounts person came by to figure out who was going to pay for the care, since Mr. Kim didn’t have workers’ comp insurance. His wife’s health plan had a big deductible.

Alongside us were other patients. One of them was an unhappy-looking Vietnamese granny. A couple of people were trying to lift her off a gurney and into a wheelchair when, ola! one of the workers fell and they all crashed to the ground.

Now I feel Mr. Kim’s right hand fingers on me. He is fishing me out of his pocket. He is bringing me up to his mouth and – O — !


With thanks to Joel Beal, Doug Keegan and Hana Kim. Inspired by Newman KL, Leon JS, Newman LS. Estimating occupational illness, injury, and mortality in food production in the United States: A farm-to-table analysis. J Occup Environ Med. 2015;57(7):718-25.