The United Farm Workers of America has filed a lawsuit against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging that the agency is failing to protect laborers from heat illnesses and death.

The plaintiffs, who include individual workers and their families and the UFW Foundation, filed the action on Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The 54-page complaint alleges that Cal/OSHA has systematically failed to enforce regulations that require farmers to provide water, shade and rest to workers to prevent heat illness or death.

Representing the plaintiffs are Munger, Tolles & Olson partners Bradley Phillips and Stuart Senator. Pro bono firm Public Counsel also is representing the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs assert that since a state law was passed in 2005 requiring protections from heat, at least 28 farm workers have died from “what were likely heat illnesses,” according to the complaint.

One of the plaintiffs is Margarita Alvarez Bautista, whose mother allegedly died two weeks after she collapsed in July 2008 while picking grapes in extreme heat in Southern California’s Riverside County.

A spokeswoman for Cal/OSHA declined to comment on the lawsuit because department officials had not seen it.

The plaintiffs seek a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring the state agency to enforce the law.

Leigh Jones is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.