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A new bill in Congress could give workers time off to deal with 'climate disasters' — here's why it matters

"The law would ensure that as climate disasters become more and more frequent, workers' safety is not impeded by their bosses."

Climate disaster response | Climate disasters act

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New legislation in Congress could grant workers a new type of paid time off. 

The bill, called the Worker Safety in Climate Disasters Act, was proposed in September by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri. If approved, the legislation would be the first of its kind in the U.S. — a law that protects workers dealing with the extreme weather caused by our planet's rapid overheating. 

As Grist reported, the idea was spawned from a tragic incident last year, when a tornado killed six workers at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois. The tornado, which touched down with wind speeds of 150 miles per hour, destroyed the warehouse, caving in the roof and collapsing multiple concrete walls.

The incident sparked outrage — and a handful of lawsuits — as workers claimed that they were basically given no emergency training for severe weather events. In the lawsuits, workers said they were allegedly told they'd be fired if they left their jobs to avoid the storm

Two of the Amazon warehouse victims were Bush's constituents. In the following months, Rep. Bush began work on a bill that could protect workers from earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and more climate-enhanced disasters that have "the potential to cause great damage or loss of life." 

Research has shown that the burning of dirty energy sources like coal and methane gas has contributed directly to severe weather conditions. 

Hurricanes, for example, are getting stronger and wetter due to rising global temperatures, which warm our oceans and create ideal conditions for storms to gain momentum. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, forest fires have also gotten worse — with many regions experiencing warmer and drier summers, which makes for longer wildfire seasons. 

Tornadoes, meanwhile, are a bit more complicated. Research shows that warming temperatures likely make tornadoes more severe, although it's not clear if they're getting more frequent. Rep. Bush's legislation would also account for those affected by heat waves, floods, and severe blizzards.  

The bill, which has nine co-signers but has yet to be voted on, would give employees two weeks of paid time off to deal with the aftermath of these disasters. Workers could qualify if they were dealing with school closures, illness, shutdowns in public transportation, or if they needed to care for affected loved ones following extreme weather events. 

"Currently there are no protections that support job security nor paid time off due to missed work because of a climate disaster, or even the requirement for employers to give guidance on what safety measures to take should an unpredictable climate disaster occur," Rep. Bush told The Intercept. "My bill changes that. It would ensure that as climate disasters become more and more frequent, workers' safety is not impeded by their bosses."

It's unclear if the Climate Disasters Act will gain momentum, but the concept of climate-based employee benefits does seem to be gaining steam. 
Since at least 2017, American companies have slowly begun offering "climate leave" to their employees. And in Australia, unions are advocating for similar protections.

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