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National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Dying in the Fields as Temperatures Soar

By Liza Gross and Peter Aldhous - Inside Climate News, December 31, 2023

Scores of California farmworkers are dying in the heat in regions with chronically bad air, even in a state with one of the toughest heat standards in the nation.

For most of July 2019, stifling heat hung over the agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley, as farmworkers like William Salas Jiminez labored under the sun’s searing rays. Temperatures had dipped from 99 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit the last day of the month, when the 56-year-old Puerto Rico native was installing irrigation tubing in an almond orchard near Arvin, at the valley’s southern edge. 

Around 1:30 that afternoon Salas sat down to rest. When he stood up to go back to work, he suddenly collapsed. An hour and a half later, he was dead. Reports filed with the U.S. Department of Occupational Health and Safety, or OSHA, say Salas died of a heart attack.

Salas’ death certificate lists atherosclerotic heart disease as the immediate cause of death. But it also lists “extreme heat exposure” and obesity as significant contributors. Both heart disease and obesity increase the risk of fatal heatstroke.

The Successful UAW Strike Portends a Successful EV Transition

By Luke Tonachel - National Resources Defense Council, November 20, 2023

When the United Auto Workers (UAW) started its strike against Ford, GM, and Stellantis earlier this year, a grim storyline took shape in the press: This strike pitted President Biden’s push for a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) against his support for workers. 

Writing about the strike and the transition to zero-emitting vehicles, the New York Times put it this way: “The political challenge posed by the industry’s transition to electric cars may be only beginning.” Politico was one of any number of publications issuing a simple warning: “UAW Strike Could Disrupt EV Rollout.” Two so-called facts were seemingly inarguable: Electric vehicles require far fewer workers to build, and none of the new battery plants could be unionized. 

But now that the strike is over—more quickly than many assumed and on much better terms for workers than analysts had said was possible—a different set of lessons are clear, and they are the exact opposite of what many in the media and hot take marketplace had predicted:

  • The Big Three automakers can invest in both their workers and the factories to make new EVs.
  • Workers at many of the new battery plants can enjoy the same union protection as other autoworkers or have an easier pathway to join the union. 
  • Building EVs can create more jobs over the next few decades as the industry builds up its capacity and know-how. 

Before examining each of these three points, it’s important to correct one misunderstanding.

To The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis:

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, et. al., August 16, 2023

(Mary Barra, Jim Farley, and Carlos Tavares)

We, the undersigned climate, environmental, racial, and social justice organizations, stand in solidarity with auto workers and their union the United Auto Workers (UAW) in their upcoming contract negotiations with the “Big 3” automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment. Only through meeting these demands will the United States ensure a just transition to a renewable energy future.

Lack of fair wages, job security, and dignified working conditions have left workers and our communities reeling. Worse, in recent months, workers and their communities have experienced unprecedented extreme heat, smoke pollution, flooding, and other disasters. The leaders of your companies have historically made decisions that exacerbated both of these crises over the past few decades — driving further inequality and increasing pollution. That is why we are standing in solidarity with the UAW and all workers and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the necessary transition.

Within the next few years — the span of this next contract — lies humanity’s last chance to navigate a transition away from fossil fuels, including away from combustion engines. With that shift comes an opportunity for workers in the United States to benefit from a revival of new manufacturing, including electric vehicles (EVs) and collective transportation like buses and trains, as a part of the renewable energy revolution. This transition must center workers and communities, especially those who have powered our economy through the fossil fuel era, and be a vehicle for economic and racial justice. We are putting you on notice: Corporate greed and shareholder profits must never again be put before safe, good-paying union jobs, clean air and water, and a liveable future.

The Climate Culprits Blocking Workers’ Heat and Wildfire Protections

By Rebecca Burns - The Lever, August 9, 2023

Fossil fuel and corporate lobbying groups blocking action on climate change are also fighting labor protections meant to safeguard workers from its intensifying effects. As record-high temperatures kill the workers who grow our food, deliver our packages, and build our homes, industry lobbying has stalled heat safety measures in Congress and at least six states, according to a Lever review.

As a result, most of the nation’s workers still aren’t guaranteed access to water, rest, and shade — the basic precautions needed to fend off dangerous heat stress. Heat exposure could already be responsible for as many as 2,000 workplace deaths each year, and research suggests that it is three times as deadly when combined with exposure to air pollution from sources like wildfire smoke.

Business lobbies representing the agriculture, construction, and railroad industries have also opposed state rules protecting outdoor workers from smoke exposure.

The key opponents to worker climate protections include the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a well-funded influence machine that describes itself as “the voice of small business” while pushing corporate agendas like the rollback of child labor protections. The group reported spending more than $1 million lobbying the federal government last year on issues including legislation to fast-track heat protections for workers. Soon after, the bill stalled.

Extreme Heat Costs North Carolina Workers and Employers

By National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - Clean Technica, July 9, 2023

North Carolina Workers, Employers would Benefit from State Heat Standards

RALEIGH, NC — According to a new report, North Carolina employers may be paying higher workers compensation claim costs in years with more hot weather. The Excessive Heat in North Carolina report found a link between extreme heat exposure in four major industries and avoidable costs to employers, including increased worker compensation for missed wages. The report was prepared by Milliman and commissioned by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

The report’s key findings include:

  • When all four industries (agriculture, construction/erection, cartage/trucking, and commercial enterprises) were considered together, there was a positive correlation between the annual number of hours with a heat index above 90°F and workers compensation claim costs for lost wages. In other words, employers paid employees more during hot years for missed work days due to illness or injury from any cause.
  • The strongest relationships between heat and workers compensation costs for lost wages were in the cartage/trucking industry (such as package delivery and ambulance service workers) and commercial enterprises (such as warehouse workers and gas station attendants). The positive correlation between hot years and the severity of lost wage claims (i.e. the cost per claim) was notably strong in cartage/trucking.
  • Based on the available sample data, cartage/trucking was the only industry to show a significant positive correlation between heat and workers compensation claims for medical costs.
  • Outside the workers compensation system, heat was correlated with healthcare use by the general population immediately after extreme heat events and for up to three months later. However, the observed relationship depended on a complex interaction between heat, an individual’s other health conditions, and socioeconomic factors such as living conditions and access to healthcare.

“Workers are protected from all kinds of hazards, such as ladder falls and electric shocks. But federally and in most states—including in North Carolina—there are no such standards protecting workers from heat. That needs to be fixed, and fast, especially as climate change makes heat season ever more brutal in the Southeast and across the country,” said Juanita Constible, Senior Advocate for Climate & Health at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The report makes clear that the avoidable costs of workplace heat exposure, such as missed work time and emergency room visits, are considerable in four of the most heat-exposed industries in North Carolina.”

“Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace. We should be doing everything we can to avoid preventable injuries at work like those caused by exposure to high temperatures,” said Clermont Fraser Ripley, Workers’ Rights Project Co-Director at the North Carolina Justice Center. “We should be doing everything we can to avoid preventable injuries at work like those caused by exposure to high temperatures.”

Many states decline to require water breaks for outdoor workers in extreme heat

By Barbara Barrett - Stateline, June 30, 2023

Nearly 400 U.S. workers died of heat exposure over a decade.

Even as summer temperatures soar and states wrangle with protecting outdoor workers from extreme heat, Texas last week enacted a law that axes city rules mandating water and shade breaks for construction workers.

In state after state, lawmakers and regulators have in recent years declined to require companies to offer their outdoor laborers rest breaks with shade and water. In some cases, legislation failed to gain traction. In others, state regulators decided against action or have taken years to write and release rules.

Heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than any other extreme weather. And in Texas, at least 42 workers died of heat exposure between 2011 and 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though labor advocates say the number is much higher because other causes are cited in many deaths.

A 2021 investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations found nearly 400 workers had died of environmental heat exposure in the previous decade, with Hispanic workers — who make up much of the nation’s farm and construction workforce — disproportionately affected.

Climate change has brought more days of extreme heat each year on average, and scientists say that number will grow. Yet only three states — California, Oregon and Washington — require heat breaks for outdoor workers. Minnesota has a rule that sets standards for indoor workers, and Colorado’s heat regulations cover only farmworkers.

Excessive heat in North Carolina: Impacts on workers compensation costs and healthcare services utilization and claims

By Garrett Bradford, Robert J. Meyer, Joanne Buckle, Philip S. Borba, Sheryl Hou, Rong Yi, and Kailey Adams - Millman, June 27, 2023

Extreme heat events are the largest source of weather-related mortality in the United States, with documented impacts on both workers compensation claims, negative health outcomes, and increased emergency department visits. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), approximately 51 million U.S. workers are at high risk to extreme heat based on their occupation, yet only 9 million live in states with permanent workplace heat standards.

NRDC recently engaged Milliman to study the relationship between workers compensation costs, healthcare services utilization, and excessive heat in North Carolina, a state with no workplace heat standards, where an estimated 1.7 million workers (27% of the workforce) are at high risk to extreme heat.

This report summarizes the research methods and findings, which included a strong correlation between indemnity costs and the heat index of annual hours above static threshold (90°F) for the groups of workers that were studied.

This report was commissioned by NRDC.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

NRDC staff moves to unionize

By Robin Bravender - E&E News, March 1, 2023

Staff at the Natural Resources Defense Council have launched a unionization campaign, organizers announced, making the environmental organization the latest national green group to see a union organizing push in recent years.

Bruce Jett, an organizing director with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, sent a letter to NRDC President and CEO Manish Bapna on Wednesday stating that the union — which represents news and nonprofit groups — is seeking to represent NRDC employees.

“We urge the Natural Resources Defense Council to join with The NewsGuild to champion the rights of your outstanding employees to perform the above activities as we undertake a respectful dialogue and move forward together with the transparent, inclusive and equitable mission of both The NewsGuild and your organization,” Jett wrote.

The NRDC union effort launched a Twitter account Wednesday saying that staff at the environmental group is “working to build an organization that treats workers with dignity and respect, listens to our concerns, and makes it easier for all of us to safeguard the planet and its people.”

Representatives of the unionization effort did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Feeling the Heat: How California’s Workplace Heat Standards Can Inform Stronger Protections Nationwide

By Teniope Adewumi-Gunn and Juanita Constible - Natural Resources Defense Council, August 2022

We are in the midst of a profound public health crisis. Rising temperatures fueled by climate change are contributing to more extreme weather events, spikes in air pollution, more frequent wildfires, and increases in tick- and mosquito-borne disease outbreaks. The resulting health harms fall more heavily on some populations than others, including workers. Workers face a range of climate-related hazards on the job, but one of the most pressing and well-understood hazards is extreme heat.

Extreme heat is killing and sickening workers. Both short stretches of extreme heat and chronic exposure to heat can cause significant effects on their physical, mental, and social well-being. Heat can cause rash, cramps, exhaustion, and stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) estimates that from 1992 to 2019, more than 900 workers died and tens of thousands more were sickened due to extreme heat.

However, these numbers greatly underestimate the scale of the problem due to lack of reporting by negligent employers and by workers afraid of retaliation (e.g., loss of employment or deportation if they are undocumented). These numbers are further deflated when heat is not identified as a cause of, or contributor to, illness or injury. Negative outcomes from cardiac or respiratory illnesses are often not attributed to heat, even if that is an underlying cause. Physical and mental effects of heat such as disorientation can also increase the risk of other work- related injuries including falling from heights, being struck by a moving vehicle, or mishandling dangerous machinery. Research has shown that the number of workers facing health outcomes from extreme heat are higher than those reported by the BLS SOII. In fact, in California alone, a study of workers found more than 15,000 occupational heat-related illness cases from 2000 to 2017. The California cases were three to six times higher annually than the numbers reported for California by BLS.

Exposure to extreme heat impacts both indoor and outdoor workers. From agricultural and construction workers, who have the highest incidences of heat-related illnesses, to warehouse and other indoor employees working without adequate cooling or ventilation, heat touches many workplaces. Workers of color also experience greater rates of heat-related illnesses and fatalities than do white workers. Workers of color are overrepresented in industries with a high risk of heat illness, but racial disparities in heat illness and death also exist among those working the same jobs. Additionally, not all workers tolerate heat the same way. Those with personal risk factors such as heart disease, medications, and pregnancy are more likely to experience heat stress.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Climate Change at Work

By NRDC - Grist, July 19, 2022

Last summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a once-in-a-millenium heat dome. While temperatures were higher than ever recorded, L.A.* was outside, working Washington’s blueberry harvest. (Fearing potential work repercussions, L.A. did not wish to be identified by her full name.) Soon, she was dehydrated, dizzy, and vomiting. Her minor son, who was also working in the field out in the heat, got a bloody nose and headache. When the harvest was moved to the middle of the night to avoid the most intense heat—”to protect the fruit, not the workers,” L.A. says—her friend cut herself badly laboring in the dark. 

Whether it’s heatwaves, wildfire smoke, or attempts to adapt that create new hazards, the climate crisis is exacerbating risks for America’s workers. From home health aides and school teachers to construction and farm workers, people across the country are now facing compounding challenges on the widening frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet federal protections for the workplace have not kept pace.

During California’s recent wildfires, shocking photos emerged of farmworkers harvesting grapes in California vineyards under an orange-tinged sky. That may be one of the most visible examples of people being forced to work in dangerous conditions, but it’s far from the only climate-related health risk employees regularly face. “The reality is that millions of workers—across our society—are being exposed to multiple environmental stressors all at once, including searing heat and toxic air pollution,” says Dr. Vijay Limaye, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

For instance, Limaye explains that the formation of ground level ozone—air pollution formed in the atmosphere from building blocks including emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas—is intensified by hotter temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting exposure limits, but the agency’s models often don’t account for compounding circumstances or cumulative impacts. While the EPA sets some legal limits for ozone, for example, outdoor workers are frequently exposed to smog and extreme temperatures simultaneously. From a health risk perspective, “the sum is often greater than the parts,” Limaye says.


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