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Miami workers fight for better labor conditions in the heat

By Kat Grimmett - Prism, August 1, 2023

Dozens of workers from the ¡Que Calor! campaign gather after the commissioners meeting to rally behind the proposed heat standard.(Photo by Kat Grimmett)

A sea of royal blue shirts filled the floor before the Miami-Dade County Commission on July 18. They belonged to dozens of outdoor workers with WeCount!’s ¡Que Calor! campaign demanding “agua, sombra, y descanso”—water, shade, and rest. 

Miami commissioners held in their agenda legislation proposing what would be the nation’s first county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers. 

“The demand of ¡Que Calor! is a step in the right direction for bringing dignity and respect for outdoor workers,” said Pedro Marcos Raymundo, one of the leaders of ¡Que Calor!. “But it’s not only about outdoor workers; it’s a step in the right direction for any and all workers.”

Raymundo is one of more than 200 workers organizing with WeCount!, a coalition of immigrant workers and families advocating for better labor conditions in South Florida. ¡Que Calor! unites workers across the outdoor industries to create solutions to the problems they are facing in the workplace. The heat standard laid out in 14A1 is one such solution. 

The board voted unanimously to pass the first reading of 14A1, which would set a historic precedent for workers nationwide if implemented. The decision would provide much relief to a community of more than 100,000 outdoor workers laboring in industries like landscaping and roofing in Miami’s record-breaking heat. 

A week later, President Joe Biden announced new measures to address extreme temperatures as record-breaking and deadly heat waves sweep the country. A hazard alert was issued for the very industries represented by ¡Que Calor!. 

But the fight is not over. The Miami legislation will now go to the Community Health Committee for a public hearing review on Sept. 11. Meanwhile, ¡Que Calor! workers and sponsors urge the Miami community to show up in support. 

The heat standard contains life-saving measures for outdoor workers. The urgency cannot be matched by bureaucracy, and sadly, two workers in Miami died of heat-related illness earlier this year. 

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.

UPS Drivers Demand AC in Trucks Following Heat Wave: ‘It’s Like Walking Into Hell’

By Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Samantha Maldonado - The City, July 27, 2023

UPS workers are turning up the heat on their employer after their union said at least six package delivery drivers in the New York City region experienced heat-related illness on the job during last week’s heat wave.

Chris Cappadonna, 26, says he sought emergency care for heat exhaustion an hour into his shift Thursday morning in Brooklyn. With outside temperatures nearing 100 degrees, he started experiencing difficulty breathing and cramped hands, he told THE CITY.

He said he was moving heavy furniture in Mill Basin and was “about to pass out” when two city sanitation workers, who apparently noticed he was struggling, stopped him and came to his aid.

They let Cappadonna sit in their air-conditioned truck to cool off, and he later went to an urgent care and then the emergency room at Mount Sinai Kings Highway, he said.

“I’ve been working for two years and I’ve never felt heat like that. That was crazy,” Cappadonna said. “It’s just not a good situation for anybody to be working in that heat.”

He and other workers say UPS management is not taking needed measures to protect them from the heat, whether that’s ensuring their trucks have fans or air conditioning, or giving them adequate breaks during heat waves.

Oil Change International stands in solidarity with workers demanding better protection from record heat

By Andy Rowell - Oil Change International, July 26, 2023

As deadly fires continue to rage out of control, scientists have confirmed that the record temperatures experienced in Europe, China and the United States are due to human-induced climate change.

They are due to the fossil fuel industry and its decades-long campaign to deny the scientific evidence, spread doubt, and continue drilling. Yes, it is that simple.

And now, workers in the U.S. have had enough of working in extreme temperatures without adequate protections and breaks. And yesterday, the Teamsters Union reached a historic deal with the courier company, UPS, over worker rights and worker protections, including over heat.

As Big 3 Auto Contracts Expire: Hurried Line Speeds and Horrible Hours

By Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, July 25, 2023

David Sandoval remembers when he and his co-workers had a whole 72 seconds to assemble their sections of each seat for the Ford F-150, back when he started at a Michigan parts plant in 2004.

Today, 60 seconds is the deadline managers give each team racing at a dozen stations: to bolt the frame together, lay electronics, add heating and cooling gear, set cushions, and attach trim. Robotic lifting arms help on only one or two steps; handheld tools and elbow grease must do the rest. Each crew is told to clear 680 seats in a 10-hour shift.

That harsh speedup makes it small wonder that repetitive motion injuries are piling up for U.S. auto workers, while the Big 3 auto companies—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler)—posted $250 billion in profits in just the last four years.

On September 14, union contracts expire for 144,000 Big 3 workers. A company-wide strike at one of the three looks likely, especially after United Auto Workers members elected a reform slate to lead their union. The new president, Shawn Fain, has pledged a contract campaign and a strike–if needed–to end wage tiers, and to put workers at the wheel of the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

To understand how that contract fight starts from conditions on the shop floor, Labor Notes interviewed workers at each of the Big 3 companies and an independent parts supplier.

From the Midwest to the South, auto workers say that their plant managers have seized on the pandemic and the EV transition to push an unsafe work pace, longer shifts and more of them, and divisions between workers. Meanwhile, some company executives are threatening layoffs and are openly preparing for a strike by stocking inventory and hiring temporary workers.

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. 

Nation’s largest nurses union stands with Rep. Casar in support of heat protections for all workers

By staff - National Nurses United, July 25, 2023

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses, stands in solidarity with Texas workers and U.S. Representative Greg Casar, who stood vigil and went on thirst strike today for Texans affected by Governor Abbott’s recent decision to eliminate water break protections.

Governor Abbott recently signed into law Texas House Bill 2127, which will take effect on September 1, 2023, and restricts cities and counties in Texas from regulating work breaks. The bill overturns specific ordinances in Austin and Dallas that require 10-minute water breaks for workers every four hours.

“I’m on thirst strike today because families across Texas and across America deserve dignity on the job. But Greg Abbott doesn’t think so. During this heat wave, the Governor just signed a law taking away your right to a water break at work. It’s an outrageous attack on Texans – and threatens all workers,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas). “The Biden Administration must step in, override Abbott, and ensure heat protections for all Americans in all industries. Our government should work for working people, not for greedy corporations that exploit their workers and fill Abbott’s campaign coffers.” 

Extreme heat is a public health issue. So far this year, two workers have died from heat while on the job in Texas. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Texas has recorded 42 heat related worker deaths since 2011 – more than any other state.

Two Austin, Texas nurses and members of California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee – an affiliate of National Nurses United – were with Rep. Casar to provide basic wellness checks and first aid, if necessary. Their support was part of a deployment with the RN Response Network, a disaster response and humanitarian aid network powered by National Nurses United, founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“As registered nurses, we know that it’s essential for workers to have access to water, breaks, and other protective measures that can help shield them from the dangerous effects of heat-related illness, including death,” said NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN. “Common-sense solutions like water break protections are critical to prevent workers from unnecessarily becoming our patients. National Nurses United is proud to stand in solidarity with Representative Casar and workers across Texas in fighting for the health and safety protections required to prevent heat-related illnesses on the job.” 

Dangerous heat waves are becoming more frequent, widespread, and intense due to the climate crisis. In fact, heat kills more people annually in the U.S. than hurricanes, tornados, and flooding. 

“As heat-related hazards grow, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must move quickly to protect workers, especially low-income workers and people of color who are disproportionately affected by heat illness, injury, and death,” said Triunfo-Cortez

How to FIGHT for Cleaner Air in the Workplace

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.

340,000 UPS drivers poised to strike over extreme heat, safe working conditions

By Tushar Khurana - Grist, July 17, 2023

During a summer that has already shattered temperature records, the 340,000 drivers, dispatchers, and warehouse workers currently in contract negotiations with UPS — the United States’ largest unionized employer — have made climate change and extreme heat a headline labor issue. And if they don’t secure a contract by July 31, they are poised to initiate the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history.

On summer days, the back of a delivery truck can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When Viviana Gonzalez, a package delivery driver for United Postal Service in Los Angeles, pulls open the back of her truck, she often thinks: “Am I going to pass out back here? Will anybody find out that I’m here in the back of the truck?”

Gonzalez is all too aware of how dangerous her job can be. Since 2015, UPS has reported at least 143 heat-related injuries to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Last year, one of her co-workers, Esteban Chavez, died of heat stroke in his delivery truck after delivering his last parcel. “I’m a single mom,” said Gonzalez, “and being able to provide for my son means I have to suck it up.”


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