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

Heat Strike: Workplace temperature and Climate Justice

California delays vote on critical indoor workplace heat safety standard

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, April 4, 2024

Amid mounting concerns over the safety of California’s workforce, a critical vote on a bill to protect workers from extreme indoor temperatures narrowly passed the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA), but the bill still requires approval from a skeptical governmental agency, leaving workers vulnerable. The decision has ignited anger among labor groups statewide that argue the state’s inaction is putting lives at risk.

On March 21, in a hearing room packed with people wearing stickers proclaiming, “Heat Kills,” a diverse coalition of laundry workers, farmworkers, janitors, steelworkers, fast food workers, stagehand technicians, construction laborers, and shipyard workers gathered to voice their dismay at the cancellation of the crucial vote on the Indoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard. The state’s Office of Administrative Law will need the Department of Finance’s approval before it can move forward with the regulations, but the office is not immediately certain about the time frame for the next steps.

“Our coalition of unions and worker advocates have been pushing Cal/OSHA to do its job and approve regulations that finally protect workers from extreme indoor heat,” said Lorena Gonzalez, Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation, which represents 1,300 unions and 2.3 million union members. “It’s outrageous that after years of advocacy … we learned that it was pulled from the agenda with no prior notice or explanation.” 

The standard would have protected millions of workers in warehouses and other indoor facilities, but Gov. Gavin Newsom objected to the program’s costs. The Department of Finance intervened over concerns about costs to correctional facilities and other state entities, but Cal/OSHA moved forward and voted unanimously to adopt the standards. The rules are now in limbo. 

Phoenix Passes Historic Ordinance Giving Outdoor Workers Protection From Extreme Heat

By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes - EcoWatch, April 1, 2024

A historic new law in Phoenix, Arizona, will provide thousands of outdoor workers in the hottest city in the country with protections from extreme heat.

In a unanimous vote, the Phoenix City Council passed an ordinance requiring that workers have easy access to rest, potable water and shade, as well as training to recognize signs of heat stress, a press release from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said. Vehicles with enclosed cabs must also have access to air conditioning.

“People who work outside and in hot indoor environments in Phoenix suffer unacceptably during our deadly summers, with too few protections,” said Katelyn Parady, a Phoenix-based expert on worker health and safety with National COSH, who assisted unions and local workers in advocating for the new extreme heat protection measures, in a press release from National COSH. “This ordinance is a critical first step toward getting workers lifesaving protections and holding employers accountable for safety during heat season. It’s also a model for how local governments can leverage their contracts to protect the workers who keep their communities running from climate change dangers.”

In 2023, there were a record 31 consecutive days of 110-plus degree heat in Phoenix. The city had 340 deaths related to the extreme heat, with 645 in Maricopa County, according to the county health department. Three-quarters of the heat-related fatalities happened outdoors.

In the United States, more than 40 percent of outdoor workers are Hispanic or Black, while making up approximately 32 percent of the population, reported The Guardian.

People of color and low-income workers are the most impacted by the hazards of extreme heat. According to Public Citizen, the risk of Latinx workers dying from heat stress is more than three times higher than that of their peers.

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."

Job Quality in the Fields: Improving Farm Work in the US

By Gerardo Reyes Chavez, Daniel Costa, Lloys Frates, Ph.D, Mireya Loza, and Ximena Bustillo - The Aspen Institute, February 28, 2024

Turner heat study finds workers at risk even on ‘cooler’ summer days

By Zachary Phillips - Constructive Dive, January 4, 2024

Dive Brief:

  • A study looking at the effects of working outside in hot weather by New York City-based Turner Construction discovered many workers’ core body temperatures reached risky levels even on moderate summer days.
  • The heat pilot study, conducted over three days last summer with an average peak temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit, found that 43% of the 33 workers monitored had core temperatures reach over 100.4 F, even in “cooler than typical summer conditions.” OSHA lists 100.4 F as the benchmark for an elevated risk of heat stress.
  • In partnership with the University of New Mexico, Indiana University and La Isla Network — an Alpharetta, Georgia-based organization researching the effects of heat on workers — the study was designed to better understand how increased temperatures affect jobsite safety.

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