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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. 

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

Union Struggles Against Climate Change

Council Nurses Urge San Francisco To Divest from DAPL

By staff - California Nurses Association, March 15, 2017

Nurses from the San Francisco (SF) Metro Council attended an SF Board of Supervisors meeting to urge the city to divest from any banks and financial institutions who have investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The SF Metro Council nurses joined other activists present from the SF NoDAPL Coalition.

After 5 1/2 hours of other agenda items and public comment, The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the resolution to direct the treasurer/tax collector to update the social responsibility investment matrix to include a screen for all DAPL related investments.  This is a significant victory for our ongoing fight to get San Francisco to fully divest from DAPL and pull out their $10 billion from Bank of America.

Kaiser SF RN, Julilynn Carter spoke during public comment about her role as a nurse and how nurses care about public health and the impact climate change has had on public welfare. She also spoke about our collective need to recognize indigenous rights.

Labor activists for Standing Rock

Staff Interview - New York Nurses Association, November 2016

Nowhere is the battle to protect tribal lands and our country’s environment from the ravages of the oil and gas industry playing out more dramatically than in Standing Rock North Dakota, where the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the only water supply available to the Lakota and Dakota peoples of the Standing Rock Reservation. Recognizing early on the inherent justice in resistance, NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, with a contingent of our nurses and staff traveled to the Sacred Stone Camp to stand in solidarity with “the largest gathering of Native Tribes in the past 100 years of American History” against the pipeline.

Now labor activists and working people from across the country have followed suit. Labor for Standing Rock is a rank-and-file organization that has joined the First Nations in the fight to protect their water supply, their ancestral lands (and our planet) from the consequences of gas pipeline development. Cliff Willmeng, an RN from Lafayette, Colorado, and UFCW Local 7 member, is one of the organizers. He spoke with New York Nurse about why it is critical to support the Native American right to self-determination and their territories.

It’s a fundamental health issue

NYN: Why is a nurse from Colorado involved with a struggle in North Dakota?

Willmeng: Quite simply, advocating for our patients is a primary role and responsibility of nurses and all health care professionals. When we take a wider view of this, we have to conclude that the fight for the environment is really advocating for patients everywhere.

Where I live and work in Lafayette, Colorado, we are among communities nationally that are fighting the oil and gas industry, or as many people know it “fracking”. We experience the spills, explosions, fires and leaks that the fossil fuel industry is synonymous with everywhere. When Standing Rock began to find its way into the national news, it was an easy connection for many people living in the shadow of the oil and gas industry to make.

NYN: Can you talk more about the healthcare impacts of these pipelines in particular?

Willmeng: When the pipelines leak and fail there are no scientific remedies to restore the comprehensive damage to the environment they affect. Every living thing that depends on that environment is then exposed in multiple ways to the oil — which is both carcinogenic and disrupts the endocrine system.

NYN: What can unions and individual members do to participate in Labor for Standing Rock?

Willmeng: The most important actions have to do with educating and mobilizing support for Standing Rock and the larger fight against the fossil fuel industry. We can pass resolutions, sponsor busses to bring members to North Dakota and start to bring new people into local fights for the environment. With these first steps, we can make the connections between all union members and begin to organize a new labor movement that fights for full employment and builds a sustainable world where working people, not CEOs, are the new leaders.

For more information, visit

How labor is working on climate justice

By Sean Petty - Socialist Worker, December 14, 2015

Many political leaders and the mainstream media are hailing the agreement signed by nearly 200 countries at the United Nations climate summit in Paris as "groundbreaking." But for the many thousands of people and hundreds of organizations struggling for climate justice, the deal struck at COP 21 doesn't go far enough--and not nearly fast enough.

Sean Petty, a pediatric ER nurse in New York City and member of the New York State Nurses Association, traveled to Paris during the two weeks of COP 21 to be part of protests and discussions organized by climate justice organizations. Here, he answered SW's questions about the presence of unions during the summit and what lies ahead for labor and the struggle to save the planet:

WHY WERE people from your union present at the climate talks?

FOR A number of reasons. Especially after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused heavy damage in large parts of New York City, including several public hospitals where our members care for patients, we have become very active in the movement to stop climate change.

We opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, we opposed fracking in our state, and we helped mobilize for the People's Climate March in September 2014. We also developed lunchtime educational meetings in our hospitals around climate change and are organizing a Climate Justice committee, which is something we hope other unions emulate.

We wanted to come to Paris to relate these experiences and join with other unions in sending a clear message that we have to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and that the necessary transition to renewable energy has to happen on a world-historic scale, has to involve the creation of good, union jobs, and has to happen through a massive expansion of public investment in energy, infrastructure and transportation.

HOW WAS the union presence organized during the COP 21?

THE MAIN global federation of unions is the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), and it is the official voice of unions within negotiations. The ITUC also organized a two-day series of workshops called the "Trade Union Forum on Climate and Jobs," where a number of unions contributed to panel discussions around different aspects of the climate crisis.

The ITUC also held workshops at the broader assembly of climate justice organizations called the "Sommet citoyen pour le climat" (People's Climate Summit), which took place in Motreuil, a close suburb of Paris, over the weekend of December 5-6.

The ITUC's main objective in the talks over the last decade or so was to fight for two words to be included in any final agreement: "just transition." This language was included in drafts leading up to the COP 21, but was dropped pretty early on during negotiations.

This triggered a significant action on December 10, where as many as 400 members of the union delegation and their allies staged a sit-in for several hours in the social space adjacent to the talks. This was a somewhat bold move, as the French ban on protests, imposed following the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, was still in effect. The French authorities chose not to have a confrontation and allowed to action to proceed without incident.

The protest gained attention for this issue. But the strategy of focusing on getting vague language into a nonbinding agreement as the primary focus of international trade union action has to be questioned. The stakes are way too high for such low expectations.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

Press Release - California Nurses Association, June 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

“Educators are very concerned about dangerous oil trains running past California schools. Hundreds of California schools are located near current and future oil train routes,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Educators and parents can help stop these Phillips 66 oil trains by encouraging local officials in San Luis Obispo County to put student and community safety first and not issue Phillips 66 a permit for their oil train project.”

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association, which sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project last November, is pleased to join forces with the teaching profession in California on this important health and safety issue.

“Nurses are thrilled to know that teachers also are strongly opposed to the Phillips 66 oil train project. The Phillip 66 oil trains present significant and unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our communities throughout California and beyond, due to toxic emissions and the potential for a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire,” stated Amber Wiehl, RN at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“Our most vulnerable populations are particularly at risk,” said Wiehl. “Children and infants are at greater risk due to their still-developing lungs and respiratory systems. The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer all face greater risks than the general public. As the mother of a child who has been hospitalized with respiratory issues, these concerns hit especially close to home.

“To protect our children and our communities, we must stop the oil trains, ” added Wiehl.

Phillips 66 wants to begin running mile-long oil trains five days each week carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County. Phillips 66 needs a building permit from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a rail yard at the refinery to accept these trains.

Nurses, teachers, and other California residents oppose the project and the issuance of a building permit by SLO County both for increased asthma risks from diesel train air pollution but also because of the risk of a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire from this hazardous cargo.

The Department of Transportation estimates that there will be ten oil train derailments each year based on the increasing number of crude oil trains in the United States and Canada. July 6 is the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic derailment in Quebec that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.

So far 13 California city councils, 12 school boards, 5 counties and one fire district in the potential blast zone of the Phillips 66 oil train route have written letters to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the oil train project. The term “blast zone” refers to the two-mile-wide area along an oil train route corresponding to the Department of Transportation’s potential evacuation zone and area of concern for crude oil train derailments.

In San Luis Obispo County, both the city council of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar teachers association have written letters opposing the project.

The Final Environmental Impact Report is expected in the coming months, followed by a vote of the County Planning Commission, then a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. More than 20,000 public comments from individuals and organizations throughout California have been received by the SLO County Planning Commission opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project.

EcoUnionist News #32

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Rail Safety:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Global Anti-Capitalism:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on; Twitter #IWWEUC

Hospitals in Australia riddled with asbestos and pose serious health risk, union officials say

By Matt Peacock - ABC News, November 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Unions and lawyers are warning that hospitals across the country are riddled with asbestos.

Tanya Segelov represented late asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton and is still acting for sufferers of dust diseases.

"Hospitals throughout Australia were full of asbestos and many remain full of asbestos," Ms Segelov told the ABC's 7.30 program.

"All of the steam pipes are wrapped in asbestos, in the ceiling cavities there is asbestos sprayed.

"There are asbestos fire doors, it is in the boiler houses, it is in the laundry.

"Wherever there was heat, wherever there is steam, there was asbestos."

Annabel Crouch worked as a speech therapist at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital for three decades.

Her doctor recently told her she has the fatal and incurable asbestos cancer mesothelioma.

It is believed she contracted it from asbestos-lined service tunnels under the hospital.

"We went up and down the tunnel 10 times a day," Ms Crouch said.

"And there would always be people working on it, the pipes, there'd be plumbers doing things.

"No-one thought there would be asbestos or any danger.

"I mean, you do expect your work place is a fairly safe environment, so it's a bit of a shock when you find out that a hospital is full of asbestos.

"But of course in the last while I have learnt that many buildings are full of asbestos."

Work Is Killing Workers: Americans Are Working So Hard It’s Actually Killing People; The jobless recovery means massive speedups for many workers you depend on

By Esther Kaplan - The Nation, November 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Jessica Wheeler works the night shift as an oncology nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania—but her patients are usually wide awake. “When they have a new cancer diagnosis or they’re going to have a biopsy in the morning, they don’t sleep,” says the 25-year-old Wheeler (which is not her real name). “They’re scared.” Other patients are in their final hours of life, surrounded by grieving family. What she wants is to be there to comfort them, to talk them through those difficult hours, to hold their hands and attend to their pain. But, mostly, she can’t.

According to hospital policy, night nurses on her floor should care for no more than six and a half patients, but they typically have ten. When things go bad with one or two, the floor quickly tips into chaos.

Wheeler recalls one night when she had a patient who couldn’t breathe and several others under her care. “I called the supervisor to ask for anybody—a nursing assistant, anybody! And I didn’t get it, and my patient ended up coding.” Another night, Wheeler had a post-op patient who required constant attention; the patient was confused and sick, and she soon escaped her restraints and pulled out her drains, spraying fecal matter all over the wall. Early the next morning, her heartbeat became irregular just as another patient was dying. “Those nights are scary,” Wheeler says. “I think I’ve seen everybody on our floor cry.”

Another young nurse describes a shift when she had only been on the job a few months and was saddled with ten patients, including one whose incision was leaking badly, requiring her to administer blood all night long. “I was drowning,” the nurse says. She called for help multiple times, but it never came. At the 7 am shift change, she confused two patients’ blood-sugar numbers and medicated the wrong one.

Wilkes-Barre was not always this out of control. For decades, it was a nonprofit community hospital serving the onetime coal town. It was bought in 2009 by what is now the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare chain, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which operates 207 hospitals in twenty-nine states. The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the nurses’ union, counts fifty-one fewer nurses since the CHS acquisition, a reduction of more than 10 percent—and that’s on top of the elimination of dozens of nursing aides and secretaries. The nurses are not only juggling more patients, says Fran Prusinski, a critical-care nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty years, but “they have to change the linens, empty the garbage and answer the phones.”

Some of the job’s intensity is due to broad national trends in healthcare. The rise of HMOs and cost-cutting in the 1990s mean patients who are stable and ambulatory—some nurses call them “walkie-talkies”—are now quickly released, so those left in the hospital tend to be sicker and harder to care for. “The patients we’re taking care of on a general medical floor now were the patients twenty years ago we took care of in an ICU [intensive-care unit] with a 2-to-1 patient-to-nurse ratio,” says Elaine Weale, an ER nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty-three years. “Now that nurse may have five patients, six patients, seven patients.” And as technology has advanced, gravely ill patients who once would have died are now being kept alive, requiring constant care.

But the crush of work these nurses face also exemplifies a hidden side of the recent economic recovery: in industry after industry, speedups are turning work into a hazard, with increasing numbers of injuries and dangerous levels of stress. While 18.6 million people remain underemployed, millions of others are working more hours, and more intensely, than ever. This is especially true in certain industries, from oil refineries to retail to publishing, where federal data shows labor productivity has risen at double or more the national rate. A 2010 survey of people registered with found that 53 percent of respondents had taken on additional duties since the start of the recession because co-workers had been laid off—almost all of them without any additional compensation. A 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Hastings Center for WorkLife Law found that overwork was a particular problem among professionals: 14 percent of women and 38 percent of men were working more than fifty hours a week. But it has become common in industrial occupations as well. “When time and a half for overtime was established by federal law, that was really a job-creation measure, so it would cost less to hire a new worker,” says Mike Wright, the United Steelworkers’ director of health and safety. “But starting in the late 1970s, the cost of benefits exceeded that extra pay cost, and it became cheaper to work your existing workers harder.”

* * *

American workers do work longer hours than we did a generation ago, according to some analyses, and hundreds more per year than our counterparts in France or Germany—the equivalent of six to eight extra weeks a year. We top the Eurozone nations in productivity by 18 percentage points. “Every month the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] releases its worker-productivity numbers, which measure output per labor hour worked,” says Celeste Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staffer. Montforton, now at the George Washington University School of Public Health, points out that the numbers “go up every month. And that’s because businesses are not hiring new workers; they’re just expecting the old workers to work more, and spitting them out after they get injured.” Some of these gains come from the adoption of new technologies, but others just come from pushing workers harder.

A 2013 survey of its own union reps by the United Steelworkers, which represents such blue-collar industries as oil and steel, found that production pressures, the increased pace of work and increased workloads topped workplace health concerns—outstripping more obvious risks such as poorly maintained equipment. When the reps were asked to give an example of a health or safety problem that had gotten worse over the past year, understaffing led the list. The jobless recovery, in other words, is sustained in part by aggressively overworking those with jobs.

Take the meatpacking industry. By age 39, Juan Martinez, who worked at a Cargill beef processing plant near Omaha, had hands so disfigured from making repetitive cuts that he could no longer work; he is now surviving on disability. He still experiences pain so intense it feels like nails are being hammered into his fingers. His crew had to slice up 4,600 twenty- to thirty-pound pieces per shift. In the four years he was at the plant, from 2003 to 2006, the number of people at his station dropped from eight to six or seven, while the parts kept coming. Since they couldn’t keep up with the line when someone took a bathroom break, supervisors responded by simply denying break requests. “There are people who would pee in their pants,” he told me, “because they didn’t give them permission to go.”

Another meatpacking worker, whom I’ll call Porfirio, worked on the kill line at XL Four Star Beef (now JBS) in Omaha for twenty-seven years. When he started, he says, they killed 1,000 cattle in a ten-hour shift; now they kill 1,100 in eight and a half hours. At night, when he goes to bed, his hands hurt so much that he has trouble falling asleep; when he wakes up in the morning, he can’t move them at all. Everyone talked about popping enormous doses of Tylenol; some talked about pressure so intense it left them depressed. “The Speed Kills You,” a 2009 report from the nonprofit organization Nebraska Appleseed, was based on a survey of 455 meatpacking workers; it cataloged a range of injuries, from cuts, falls and fractures to musculoskeletal and repetitive-strain injuries, attributed mainly to “uninterrupted line speed.” Three-quarters of respondents said line speed had increased in their plant over the past year.

Line speeds in meatpacking and poultry are federally regulated for food safety only, not worker safety. Last year, the USDA proposed to raise the cap on poultry line speeds from 140 to an almost unimaginable 175 birds a minute, even though hand and wrist injuries were already rampant in the industry. A government study of one poultry plant in March of this year found that 41 percent of the workers already exceed safe limits for hand activity, and 42 percent showed evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.


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