Short-Handled Hoe Ban

Short-Handled Hoe Ban

 "El Cortito, 'the short one,' was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farm workers who used it to bend and stoop all day long - a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries.

In the late 1960's and 1970's, el cortito was the most potent symbol of all that was wrong with farm work in California: The tool was unnecessary, and farmers in most other states had long switched to longer hoes. Growers argued that without the control the short hoe offered, thinning and weeding would be mishandled, crop losses would mount, and some farmers would go bankrupt.

Short-handled tools are designed in such a way that they can only be used by workers engaged in weeding in a stooped, bent-over posture. Using such tools to weed and thin crops causes 'great physical agony and considerable disability.' (Carmona, at 13 Cal.3d 303, 307. ) Used over a substantial period of time, short handled tools 'cause abnormal degeneration of the spine, resulting in irreparable back injury and permanent disability.' The resulting aging of the spine accelerates the arrival of the point where a person can no longer work because of pain.

The short-handled hoe was prohibited in 1975 under an administrative order drafted by officials of Cal/OSHA's predecessor agency, the state Division of Industrial Safety."

Cry Wolf Quotes

It was an absurd thing for the court to get into that. According to the safety information that we had, there is nothing unsafe about a short-handled hoe. [The interviewer here notes that it was known to negatively affect long term health]. Yes, it was detrimental to health; therefore the Supreme Court banned it. But when I go down on Market Street and I see these guys laying bricks on the sidewalks of Market Street, that's a hell of a lot more hazardous to health, in my opinion, than a short-handled hoe.

J. Earl Cooke, former California Secretary of the Agriculture and Services Agency.
12/11/1975 | Full Details | Law(s): Short-Handled Hoe Ban

People always complain about back problems. I've thinned and hoed and I'm a great big man. I've thinned lettuce along with workers when I was a younger fellow and I was starting out in the farming business, and it hurts and it hurts badly for about three days. Then after that you're in shape.

Salinas Valley grower Robert Grainger, testimony at California’s Industrial Safety Board (ISB) hearing.
05/03/1973 | Full Details | Law(s): Short-Handled Hoe Ban

Unless we're able to weed that crop with the short-handled hoe, we are going to have to disk the crop up. It will cost a fortune if we are stopped from using the short-handled hoe. If you ban this tool, through your hasty action, you will bankrupt California's largest industry.

Salinas Valley lettuce grower Tom Merrill’s testimony, California Industrial Safety Board (ISB) hearing.
03/27/1975 | Full Details | Law(s): Short-Handled Hoe Ban

In California, Mexican farm workers are no longer allowed to use the short-handled hoe they have used for generations; now they are required to use long-handled American type hoes. . . .This is not because the workers or the farmers want to change: but apparently because the city people, driving by, feel more comfortable watching the workers use the kind of hoes that look good through car windows.

Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz. The New York Times
03/18/1976 | Full Details | Law(s): Short-Handled Hoe Ban