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Bosses Advocate Taking Away Air Conditioning so Workers Can Endure Extreme Heat

Florida blocks heat standards from being passed across the state

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, March 21, 2024

Florida legislators dealt a blow to outdoor workers this month by passing a law that bans local governments from implementing heat standards. Starting July 1, it will be illegal for local governments to pass health and safety measures for outdoor workers in extreme heat. The decision comes after Florida experienced its hottest summer on record. 

“In just a few months, as Florida temperatures soar to triple digits, outdoor workers will face increasingly dangerous conditions,” said Esteban Wood, the policy director at WeCount!, a nonprofit that helps immigrant workers in South Florida. “Workers will suffer heat stroke, businesses will lose out on billions in lost worker productivity, and local emergency rooms will become overwhelmed with heat related hospitalizations.” 

Miami-Dade County’s outdoor worker activists with WeCount! had been organizing for the nation’s first county-wide heat standard since 2017. The coalition of workers officially launched their Que Calor! Campaign in 2021 and came close to getting the Board of County Commissioners to approve the proposed heat standard in September, but by November, commissioners buckled under lobbyist pressure, and the final vote was postponed until March 2024 in the hopes of gaining support. 

Less than a week later, state Rep. Tiffany Esposito filed House Bill 433, which was designed to prevent cities and counties across Florida from enacting workplace heat standards. The bill was passed on March 8, just weeks before the county was set to determine the local decision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, average annual heat-related deaths have risen 95% from 2010 to 2022. The ¡Que Calor! Heat Standard originally included a heat exposure safety program for workers and their supervisors about the risks of heat exposure and best practices for minimizing heat-related illness. The standard also stated that on days with a heat index of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a right to 10 minutes of paid rest and a water break every two hours to cool down under shade and avoid heat stroke. The standard has now been raised to 95 degrees.

Florida Legislators Ban Local Heat Protections for Millions of Outdoor Workers

By Amy Green and Victoria St. Martin - Inside Climate News, March 19, 2024

ORLANDO, Fla.—Even if the often unbearable Florida temperatures started creeping up toward triple digits, Maria Leticia Pineda could usually be found clad in at least three layers of clothing to protect her skin from sunburns while she worked in an outdoor plant nursery.

Pineda spent 20 years working 11-hour days as she helped grow fruits like strawberries, blueberries and pineapples, as well as vegetables, ferns and other plants. But by 2018, between headaches that she believes were exacerbated by the heat, recurring pains in her right elbow and back and aches just about everywhere else, she’d had enough.

“I love agriculture and working with people and the environment, but I stopped because it’s so hot,” said Pineda, who is 51. “With the heat, it won’t kill you right away. I’ve felt the struggle for so long and the damage stays with you.”

The state’s 2 million outdoor workers are poised to have less access to accommodations like water and shady rest breaks under a bill the Florida Legislature recently approved.

The measure prohibits local governments from establishing heat protections for outdoor workers. It comes after commissioners in Miami-Dade County considered a proposal last year that would have compelled construction and agriculture companies to provide water and rest breaks when the heat index there rises to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The proposal also would have required training in heat illness and first aid, but it was never brought to a vote.

The new state legislation preempts any such local provisions. It was approved earlier this month, on the final day of the annual session, but still requires the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has described himself as “not a global warming person.” His climate change policy has focused on fortifying the state’s infrastructure against rising seas and increasingly damaging hurricanes, but he has done little to address the human-caused emissions contributing to hotter temperatures.

Florida GOP Passes 'Vicious' Bill Banning Mandatory Water Breaks for Workers

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, March 8, 2024

"We will see fatalities, because of what Florida Republicans chose to do this week," said one workers' rights advocate.

Displaying "punitive cruelty" toward Florida residents who work outdoors, the Republican-controlled state House on Friday approved a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that workplaces provide water breaks and other cooling measures.

The state Senate passed the measure on Thursday, with Republicans pushing the bill through as Miami-Dade County was scheduled to vote on local water break protections. If signed into law by the Republican governor, the proposal will preempt the county's vote.

Roughly 2 million workers are expected to be affected by the legislation in Florida, where parts of the state experienced record-breaking heat last year. Meteorologists found that last month was the hottest February ever recorded globally, and the ninth straight month to set such a record.

Miami-Dade County officials estimate that 34 people die from heat-related causes each year.

"Every single year, it's going to get hotter and hotter," Oscar Londoño, executive director of worker advocacy group WeCount!, toldThe Guardian. "Many more workers' lives are going to be at risk. We will see fatalities, because of what Florida Republicans chose to do this week."

Londoño called the bill a "cruel... bad faith attempt to keep labor conditions very low for some of the most vulnerable workers."

Auto Workers Direct Momentum Toward Organizing Plants Across the U.S.

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, November 30, 2023

“The company knows that Toyota workers are watching,” said Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on November 3. “And when the time comes, Toyota workers and all non-union auto workers are going to be ready to stand up.”

That time has come—yesterday the UAW announced its plan, already in motion, to organize the whole auto sector. “Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW,” said Fain in a new video.

The union says thousands of workers have reached out asking for support in unionizing their auto plants. They’ve scoured the old websites from previous union drives and filled out forms to be put in touch with an organizer.

“To all the auto workers out there working without the benefits of a union: Now it’s your turn,” he said, inviting auto workers to join the organizing push and telling them where they can electronically sign union cards, at UAW.org/join.

Thousands of non-union auto workers are already organizing across the 10 foreign-owned transplants, including Toyota, Hyundai, and Mercedes, as well as in the electric vehicle sector at Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid. Overall, the organizing drive will cover 150,000 workers—roughly the same number of workers covered under the Big 3 contracts—across 13 automakers.

How Florida farmworkers are protecting themselves from extreme heat

By Katie Myers and Siri Chilukuri - Grist, October 27, 2023

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

On any given summer day, most of the nation’s farmworkers, paid according to their productivity, grind through searing heat to harvest as much as possible before day’s end. Taking a break to cool down, or even a moment to chug water, isn’t an option. The law doesn’t require it, so few farms offer it.

The problem is most acute in the Deep South, where the weather and politics can be equally brutal toward the men and women who pick this country’s food. Yet things are improving as organizers like Leonel Perez take to the fields to tell farmworkers, and those who employ them, about the risks of heat exposure and the need to take breaks, drink water, and recognize the signs of heat exhaustion. 

“The workers themselves are never in a position where they’ve been expecting something like this,” Perez told Grist through a translator. “If we say, ‘Hey, you have the right to go and take a break when you need one,’ it’s not something that they’re accustomed to hearing or that they necessarily trust right away.”

Perez is an educator with the Fair Food Program, a worker-led human rights campaign that’s been steadily expanding from its base in southern Florida to farms in 10 states, Mexico, Chile, and South Africa. Although founded in 2011 to protect workers from forced labor, sexual harassment, and other abuses, it has of late taken on the urgent role of helping them cope with ever-hotter conditions. 

It is increasingly vital work. Among those who labor outdoors, agricultural workers enjoy the least protection. Despite this summer’s record heat, the United States still lacks a federal standard governing workplace exposure to extreme temperatures. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the agency has opened more than 4,500 heat-related inspections since March 2022, but it does not have data on worker deaths from heat-related illnesses. 

Workers are dying from extreme heat. Why aren’t there laws to protect them?

By Jana Cholakovska and Nate Rosenfield - Grist, October 19, 2023

This story is co-published with The Guardian and produced in partnership with the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. It is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

Jasmine Granillo was eager for her older brother, Roendy, to get home. With their dad’s long hours at his construction job, Roendy always tried to make time for his sister. He had promised to take her shopping at a local flea market when he returned from work. 

“I thought my brother was coming home,” Granillo said. 

Roendy Granillo was installing floors in Melissa, Texas, in July 2015. Temperatures had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when he began to feel sick. He asked for a break, but his employer told him to keep working. Shortly after, he collapsed. He died on the way to the hospital from heat stroke. He was 25 years old. 

A few months later, the Granillo family joined protesters on the steps of Dallas City Hall for a thirst strike to demand water breaks for construction workers. Jasmine, only 11 years old at the time, spoke to a crowd about her brother’s death. She said that she was scared, but that she “didn’t really think about the fear.” 

“I just knew that it was a lot bigger than me,” she said.

Fall Protection is DANGEROUS? A Worker Died Because The Boss Told Him That

Green New Deal Justice—from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, Summer 2023

Almost by definition Green New Deal projects simultaneously address climate protection, worker empowerment, and justice. This Commentary will look at Green New Deal projects and networks that emerged from discriminated-against communities and put issues of justice front and center.

While the Green New Deal is often thought of as a program for climate and jobs, justice has been a central element from its very beginning. The initial Green New Deal resolution proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez included as a core aim to “promote justice and equity by preventing current and repairing historic oppression to frontline communities.” That included:

  • providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all members of our society, with a focus on frontline communities, so they may be full and equal participants in Green New Deal projects;
  • directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and deindustrialized communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition;
  • ensuring democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline communities and workers to plan, implement and administer Green New Deal projects at the local level;
  • obtaining the voluntary, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect them, honoring all treaties with Indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of all Indigenous peoples.[1]

While much of the Green New Deal program has been stymied at the national level, communities, cities, and states have been going ahead to develop their own Green New Deals – what I have called in this series of Commentaries the “Green New Deal from Below.” Typically they involve a strong emphasis on the justice objectives of the Green New Deal. For example:

  • The Boston Green New Deal launched PowerCorps BOS, a green jobs program designed to serve “the dual purpose of creating job opportunities for our young adults” while “protecting our city from the ravages of climate change and enhancing quality of life for all residents.”
  • The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance requiring new buildings to be all-electric. Gloria Medina, executive director of SCOPE LA, said this ordinance is “about Black, Brown and Indigenous community members at the forefront. This is their win.” Chelsea Kirk, policy analyst at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, said, “We think this is a super important, logical first step that allows us to make progress in our net-zero carbon goals as outlined in the Green New Deal.”
  • The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition designed a participatory process called “Listen, Lead, Share” to write a climate, jobs and justice law “written by communities for communities.” The Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, described by one journalist as a “Green New Deal for Illinois,” includes a wide range of programs embodying Green New Deal justice programs. For example, it provided that the first fossil fuel plants to be shut down will be those nearest to low-income and marginalized communities; $80 million allocated for Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs run by local organizations in 13 of the state’s low-income communities to deliver outreach, recruitment, training, and placement for climate jobs; travel stipends, work clothes, tools, and/or childcare for training and incubator program participants; program to train people currently in prison and place them in clean energy jobs; and a Clean Energy Jobs and Justice Fund to pay for projects in low-income and marginalized communities.

While virtually all Green New Deal from Below-style programs include a strong social justice component, some of them have emerged from and primarily represent the demands of people of color and frontline communities. They are the subject of this Commentary.

Miami-Dade nears final approval for nation’s first county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, September 20, 2023

Farmworkers and construction workers in Miami-Dade County secured a historic victory this month when the County Commission Community Health Committee approved a heat standard for outdoor workers. If the full Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approves the bill, it will mark the first heat standard for workers in the nation. Hundreds of outdoor workers, faith leaders, labor unions, and health care professionals attended the Sept. 11 Community Health Committee meeting where the decision was being heard. 

The proposed Miami-Dade Heat Standard as part of WeCount!’s ¡Que Calor! campaign includes a heat exposure safety program for workers and their supervisors about the risks of heat exposure and best practices for minimizing heat-related illness. The standard also states that on days with a heat index of at least 90 degrees, workers have a right to 10 minutes of paid rest and a water break every two hours to cool down under shade and avoid heat stroke. If passed, the county will enforce labor protections and support employers and workers with implementing heat safety protocols that can prevent heat-related illness and save lives. 

“Sometimes [the managers] don’t let you drink water because if you drink water, you go to the bathroom, and they don’t let you go to the bathroom,” said Mariola, a farmworker and organizer with WeCount! who asked to withhold her last name to protect her identity. “If the boss is watching, they start yelling at you. That is the problem we have here.”

Mariola has worked at different plant nurseries in Homestead, Florida, for 17 years since she immigrated from Guatemala. She works 12 hours straight in the grueling sun for $11 an hour. Mariola said there are no trees or shady spots to seek refuge from during the work day.

“When you’re at work, there’s nowhere for you to go if you’re fainting or feel dizzy in the sun,” she said.

Mariola said she was fired from a plant nursery a year ago for seeking shade under a tree that was far away from the nursery. 

“They fired me from my job because I couldn’t take it anymore,” Mariola said. “I felt dizzy, and I didn’t know if it was the sun. I went to look for a tree far away, and I went to drink water. But when the owner of the company arrived, he told me to go home and that there was no more work for me …There [was] no law. But if there is a law, they will obey; how can they not?”

Special interests from the construction industry attended the meeting to attempt to block the law, but the overwhelming support from the farmworker and labor communities outnumbered them.

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