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Fair Food Program’s heat illness standards are saving farmworkers’ lives amidst record-shattering summer temperatures

By Ty Joplin - Coalition of Immokalee Workers, August 23, 2023

Fair Food Program’s heat illness standards are saving farmworkers’ lives amidst record-shattering summer temperatures

Professor Susan Marquis, Princeton University, op/ed in Miami Herald on FFP heat illness standards: “The Fair Food Program’s heat illness prevention standards already are proven. Crews are staying hydrated and safe. As one farmworker reported, “We can do more than improve day-to-day health and safety conditions. We can prevent a father or mother, a daughter or son, from losing their lives.’”

IMMOKALEE, FL – As scorching summer temperatures endanger the lives of farmworkers across the nation, and at least two farmworkers in South Florida alone have succumbed to the record heat this year, advocates are urgently sounding the alarm for rigorous and enforceable heat stress protections. While these advocacy efforts are desperately needed to protect hundreds of thousands of the country’s hardest and most vulnerable workers, there is a program that has been in operation since 2011 in farm fields from Florida to Colorado that deploys the very same protections – water, shade, and mandatory rest breaks – that advocates are calling for today around the country, and more, including on-the-clock education on their rights for farmworkers and training in life-saving interventions to prevent heat stress illness and death for supervisors. Indeed, the Fair Food Program’s Heat Illness Standards not only provide the essential elements for effective heat stress protection, they also, as part of a broader, Presidential-medal winning program to safeguard farmworkers’ basic human rights, have the power to actually enforce those standards in the fields.

To protect workers under its standards, the FFP is backed by the market power of 14 major retailers including Walmart, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes, all pledged to suspend purchases from growers who are suspended from the program for violating its standards, giving the program real teeth. The FFP is monitored by a team of independent, trained human rights investigators with the Fair Food Standards Council. As a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald lays out, “the program is credited with eliminating unsafe working conditions, wage theft, beatings, rape and forced labor for tens of thousands of farmworkers each year on participating U.S. farms.”

Thousands of farmworkers are covered by the FFP, which is operative today in 12 crops in 10 states, and 3 countries. To extend these life-saving heat stress protections to workers currently toiling in fields beyond their reach, farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are pushing for the rapid expansion of the FFP, calling on major food brands – companies including Kroger, Wendy’s and Florida’s own Publix – to join the program and help bring these best-in-class protections to tens of thousands of more farmworkers across the county. 

The Working Class Stake in the Fight Against Global Warming

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Solidarity, August 22, 2023

I’m going to suggest here that the working class has a unique role to play in the fight against global warming because the owning and managing classes have interests that are tied to an economic system that has an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation whereas the working class does not.

In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…” With wreckage from intensifying storms and people dying from heat waves, it might seem that everyone has a stake in the project of ecological sustainability, and bringing a rapid end to the burning of fossil fuels. As we know, however, various sectors of the owning and managing classes pursue profits from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They protect sunk investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure (like gas burning power plants) or propose highly implausible strategies (like carbon capture and storage). Thus many sectors of the top classes in our society are a roadblock to ecological sustainability.

The working class, on the other hand, have a stake in the fight for a livable future, and also have the potential power to do something about it. The working class is a large majority of the society, and thus has the numbers to be a major force. Their position in the workplace means workers have the potential to organize and resist environmentally destructive behaviors of the employers.

During Some of the Hottest Months in History, Millions of App Delivery Drivers Are Feeling the Strain

By Gina Jiménez - Inside Climate News, August 15, 2023

Around 4 million people in the U.S. work as contractors for app services like DoorDash delivering pizzas, salads and pad thai. Those in areas with extreme heat are taking new measures to keep working through it.

Jessica Fawcett wakes up at 5:30 a.m. so she can deliver groceries and take-out orders throughout Tempe, Arizona by 6:30 a.m. She has been working 12- to 14-hour shifts for Instacart and DoorDash since December, but lately, the heat in Tempe has been making them harder. 

Some days, Fawcett must walk 20 minutes or climb four floors of stairs in a 116-heat index just to deliver one order. “I joke and say I don’t need to go to the gym because I already walk a lot with this heat,” she says, “I have lost so much weight.” 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this year’s June was the hottest the Earth has ever registered, and last week the Copernicus Climate Change Service said July was the hottest month ever recorded. High temperatures have continued this month, and over 100 million Americans were under an extreme heat alert at some point during July.

Nevertheless, app delivery workers in states with extreme weather, like Arizona and Texas, have kept working. Some feel the consequences on their health, and others are changing their working hours and carrying around cold water to survive long shifts in the blistering heat. 

“It feels like you are standing in an air fryer or a microwave,” says Hector Mejía, a 30-year-old who has been working doing DoorDash deliveries in Phoenix for around a year. He compares heat these days in Arizona with standing next to a campfire. “It’s almost hard to breathe.” 

The number of people working for app delivery platforms in the U.S. has exponentially increased in the last few years, from just over one million in 2018 to over four million in 2021, a recently published study found. That represents almost three times Amazon’s global workforce. 

While some platform workers like the flexibility of the job, they are especially vulnerable to inclement weather, sickness or any situation that keeps them from working since as independent contractors, their livelihood depends on them being on the streets.

In New York City, app delivery workers have been fighting to get an hourly minimum wage, but in the rest of the country, organization efforts are scarce, said Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the Workers Justice Project, an organization that has supported app delivery workers in New York. 

OSHA: Employers Are Responsible for Protecting Workers from Heat Illness

By staff - AFGE, August 14, 2023

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a heat hazard alert and announced more enforcement as a reminder to employers that they have the duty to protect workers. 

OSHA’s heat hazard alert comes as most states are experiencing record-breaking heat that puts workers at risk.

“It’s the law! Employers have a duty to protect workers against heat,” OSHA said in the alert. “Employers have a legal and moral responsibility not to assign work in high heat conditions without protections in place for workers, where they could be literally worked to death.” 

“The department [of Labor] also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture,” the Department of Labor said. “These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.

OSHA’s alert applies to both workers in the public and private sectors. AFGE members are voicing concerns on the heat issue as well. To date, we heard from locals representing TSA, EPA, and Ft. Belvoir employees. 

“They talked about TSA workers passing out. They filed an OSHA complaint, and TSA did the right things for about three days. Then it went back to the same old -- meaning no heat protections for workers,” said AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez. 

According to OSHA, employers should provide cool water, breaks, and a cool rest area for employees. They should train employees on heat illness prevention and what to do if they see another employee suffering from heat illness. They should also allow employees to become used to working in hot temperatures.

Under the OSHA Act, if workers don’t feel their working conditions are safe, they can file a confidential complaint with OSHA online or call OSHA at 800- 321-OSHA. It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against a workers who exercises their legal rights and file a complaint with OSHA.

New Texas law strikes down rights for immigrant workers

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, August 7, 2023

Workers and allies protested July 14 outside Houston’s City Hall, denouncing what they are calling “la ley que mata,” or “the law that kills.” HB 2127, which eliminates critical labor and housing protections for workers, takes effect September 1. 

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127—also known by critics as the “Death Star” bill—last month, leading workers to call on President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent more workers’ deaths. The bill nullifies municipal laws and regulations, specifically taking aim at progressive ordinances that improve worker protections, including regulations related to overtime pay, rest breaks, and water breaks—changes that will directly impact Texas’ immigrant workers. More broadly, the law also has the potential to bar cities from creating regulations related to agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property. In short, as reported by the Texas Tribune, “the Legislature decided there was too much Democracy afoot in Texas, so it did something about it.”

Houston and San Antonio have sued the state to block the law, arguing that HB 2127 violates the state’s constitutions and prohibits cities from self-governing. According to a survey by the University of Texas/Texas Real Politics Project, nearly half of those surveyed said the state government mostly ignores the needs of Texas residents. Nearly 60% opposed exactly what HB 2127 does, which is “reduce the power of cities and counties to pass laws or regulations in areas where state and local governments have traditionally shared authority.” 

During a press conference on July 14, dozens of neon yellow construction hats lined the steps of Houston’s City Hall, representing the workers who experienced heat-related injuries on the job. On July 1, construction worker Felipe Pascual collapsed due to extreme heat at a job site in Fort Bend County and later died from hyperthermia. As of late June, at least 13 people have died from heat-related illness in Texas alone.

Biden Admin Issues New Protections for Outdoor Workers Amid Deadly Heat Wave

By Zane McNeill - Truthout, August 1, 2023

The Biden Administration has announced new protections to keep outdoor workers safe from extreme heat, and instructed the Department of Labor to issue a heat hazard alert and increase enforcement of heat-safety violations.

“Millions of Americans are currently experiencing the effects of extreme heat, which is growing in intensity, frequency, and duration due to the climate crisis,” the administration said in a factsheet. “Today’s announcements build on numerous actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to bolster heat response and resilience nationwide.”

Experts have stated that July was likely the hottest month in 120,000 years, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to warn that “the era of global boiling has arrived.” In the United States, a summer heat wave in the South has lasted three months and affected more than 55 million people, killing at least a dozen people.

An average of 702 heat-related deaths occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of the climate crisis, heatwaves have become more frequent and intense.

Texan Activists Thirst for a National Heat Standard to Protect Outdoor Workers

By Colleen DeGuzman - KFF Health News, July 28, 2023

WASHINGTON — Construction workers, airport baggage handlers, letter carriers, and other outdoor workers — many of whom traveled to Washington, D.C., from Texas — gathered at the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday. They were joined by labor organizers and lawmakers for what was billed as “a vigil and thirst strike” to protest a law Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed, which, as a downstream consequence, eliminates mandated water breaks for construction workers.

The Republican governor signed House Bill 2127 — known as the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act but dubbed the “Death Star” by critics — the same month the state saw at least 13 heat-related deaths amid a scorching heat wave that’s on track to break records.

The measure, heavily backed by business and building sectors, was designed to replace “the regulatory patchwork” of county and municipal rules across the state “with a single set of predictable, consistent regulations,” according to a fact sheet circulated by its supporters. That means cities would no longer have the authority to enforce local ordinances related to agriculture, natural resources, finance, and labor; and local protections against extreme heat, such as water break requirements, would be rolled back.

The group of about three dozen people stood in the early-afternoon sun and held signs that read “Working Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence,” “Water Breaks = Basic Right,” and “People Over Profits,” sweating and squinting. In the nation’s capital, the heat index had already reached 91 degrees. But protesters were focused on the plight of employees working in their even-hotter home state, where the thermostat had been reaching triple digits.

Why extreme heat is so deadly for workers

By Siri Chilukuri - Grist, July 25, 2023

Climate change is creating dangerously hot conditions for construction workers, mail carriers, delivery drivers, airline workers, farmworkers, and more. Conditions that were previously uncomfortable are now unbearable, and the failure of companies — along with some state governments — to catch up to the new normal of heat has had deadly consequences

U.S. heat-related fatalities have increased in recent years, according to an NPR analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data that found the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s. In the decade spanning 2011 to 2021, heat killed more than 436 people on the job. 

The myriad of factors that influence how heat is actually felt can be difficult to pin down, but a metric known as the heat index — which combines temperature and humidity — can get close. Last week’s heat index figures were eye-popping, reaching 119 degrees Fahrenheit in Corpus Christi, Texas, and 113 F in both Phoenix and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

“The heat index is what really worries me,” said Tevita ’Uhatafe, a former airlines-operation worker who’s now the vice president of the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO union. “Because that’s what we’re actually dealing with when we’re working outside.” 

Airline-operations positions often mean working outdoors with limited shade. Plus, being surrounded by the sheet metal of airplanes and the concrete of the tarmac can make it even hotter during periods of extreme heat. Concrete, for example, can actually contribute to rising temperatures

By mid-century, a quarter of Americans will experience heat index temperatures above 125 F for at least one day a year, according to a statistical model by the nonprofit First Street Foundation. Areas surrounding the Texas-Mexico border will experience temperatures above 100 F for more than a third of the year. In addition, researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the University of California Merced found that outdoor workers stand to lose more than $39.3 billion in income annually by the middle of the century from reduced hours due to heat risk. 

Amid a record heat wave, Texas construction workers lose their right to rest breaks

By Hannah Levitan - NPR, July 21, 2023

A week after construction workers in Austin, Texas, learned they were about to lose their right to rest breaks, the city reached a record-high heat index of 118 degrees. From July 9 to 19, the state capital saw an unprecedented, 11-day streak of temperatures reaching 105 degrees or more.

The Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service has responded to 410 heat-related incidents just since June 1, according to a spokesperson, Capt. Christa Stedman. Among them: A middle-aged man, working outdoors, who called for help after experiencing signs of heat exhaustion.

"It progressed so quickly into heat stroke that, between the time he called 911 and the time that the paramedics arrived on scene, he was fully unconscious and his core temperature was over 106," Stedman said.

Construction worker Mario Ontiveros risks the same outcome. Because he works in Dallas, a local ordinance gives him the right to at least a 10-minute rest break every four hours. But this is the last summer he'll get to claim it.

On June 13, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127 — the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act — which bars cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state ones. It also overturns local rules such as ordinances in Austin and Dallas that mandate rest breaks for construction workers. The law takes effect Sept. 1.

How Federal Law Can Protect All Workers on Sweltering Summer Days

By Tom Conway - CounterPunch, July 17, 2023

The heat index soared to 111 degrees in Houston, Texas, but the real-feel temperature climbed even higher than that inside the heavy personal protective equipment (PPE) that John Hayes and his colleagues at Ecoservices wear on the job.

Sweat poured from the workers clad in full-body hazardous materials suits, heavy gloves, splash hoods, and steel-toed boots as they sampled and processed chemicals from huge metal containers under a searing sun.

Fortunately, as members of the United Steelworkers (USW), these workers negotiated a policy requiring the chemical treatment company to provide shade, cool-down periods, and other measures to protect them during sweltering days.

But unless all Americans have commonsense safeguards like these, workers across the country will continue to get sick and die during ever-worsening heat waves.

The USW, other unions, and advocacy groups are calling on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to speedily enact a national standard specifying the minimum steps all employers need to take to safeguard workers from unprecedented and deadly bouts of heat.

Because of union advocacy, OSHA already has national standards that protect workers from falls, trench collapses, asbestos exposure, infectious diseases, injuries from equipment, and many other workplace hazards. It’s way past time to also protect workers from the heat waves that are growing more severe, lasting longer, and claiming more lives each year.

“Heat affects everybody. It doesn’t care about age,” observed Hayes, president of USW Local 227’s Ecoservices unit, who helped to negotiate the heat-related protections for about 70 workers in treatment services, maintenance, logistics, and other departments.

“There’s so many things they can come up with,” he said of OSHA officials.

The policy the union negotiated with Ecoservices requires low-cost, sensible measures like water, electrolytes, modified work schedules, tents and fans, and the authority to stop work when conditions become unhealthy and unsafe.

“If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, take your timeout,” Hayes reminds coworkers. “Don’t worry about it.”

In 2021, OSHA initiated efforts “to consider a heat-specific workplace rule.” In the meantime, states and local governments are free to make their own rules, let workers fend for themselves, or even put workers at greater risk.


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