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State lawmakers under fire for passing 'cruel' bill that affects 2 million workers: 'It's a bad-faith attempt to keep labor conditions very low'

This decision is typical of a growing kickback against municipal worker protections across the U.S.

This decision is typical of a growing kickback against municipal worker protections across the U.S.

Photo Credit: iStock

Heat waves kill more people in the U.S. than any other extreme weather event, with outdoor workers particularly vulnerable to the searing heat's lethal effects.

Yet Florida has curbed protections for these workers in a new bill, which bans cities, counties, and municipalities from legislating about working conditions in deadly temperatures

What's happening?

Life-saving measures in the workplace — like adequate water, rest, and shade — can no longer be enforced by local lawmakers after being outlawed by Florida's bill.

This development follows Miami-Dade County's proposed legislation last year, which attempted to mandate water and rest breaks for agricultural and construction workers when outdoor temperatures surpassed 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

What would have been the first municipal bill to standardize heat protection for outdoor workers was shelved, as industry figures insisted that such provisions should come from a state or federal level. 

President Joe Biden already directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to devise federal standards for workers' heat protection in 2021, but it could be years before these materialize — the agency's rule-making process takes an average of seven years.

In the meantime, 2 million outdoor workers have been put at risk in Florida. Existing protections become "void and prohibited" on July 1 — which happens to be Florida's warmest month on average. 

"This legislation is cruel," Oscar Londoño, executive director of WeCount!, told the Guardian. "It's a bad-faith attempt to keep labor conditions very low for some of the most vulnerable workers."

Why is Florida's new bill concerning?

Florida's decision is typical of a growing push against municipal worker protections across the U.S.

Last year, Texas passed an act prohibiting ordinances that regulate private employment practices, including one in Dallas that stipulated water breaks for construction workers. 

Businesses in Nevada also successfully lobbied against a law that enforced heat protection for both indoor and outdoor workers. 

But when such municipal, state, or federal laws are lacking, workers' lives end up on the line. 

Prolonged exposure to heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 436 died from work-related heat exposure between 2011 and 2021. 

These figures are likely to worsen as the climate crisis intensifies, particularly in Florida, which a recent study called the U.S.'s hottest state. In the past three years, the state has seen an 88% increase in heat-related deaths. 

What's being done to protect workers?

While the U.S. awaits OSHA's proposed nationwide heat protection standards, worker-led groups are advocating for themselves. 

We Count!, which represents outdoor workers in Miami-Dade County, launched the ¡Qué calor! (What heat!) campaign in 2021, which educates workers and business owners on safety procedures for extreme heat — and what to do if a colleague collapses.

Meanwhile, California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have become a model for state-wide legislation

California businesses, for instance, are required to supply water and shelter when temperatures pass 80 degrees Fahrenheit and add additional paid breaks after 95 degrees.

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