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Florida Republicans Block Heat Protection Law, Order Workers to Bake – People’s World

A protester covers himself with a sheet to simulate a worker killed by extreme heat, June 21, 2023, during a rally of outdoor workers demanding protection from extreme heat in Miami. The protesters were calling on the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners to adopt a county heat standard that would add life-saving worker protections, such as guaranteed access to water and shaded rest breaks for outdoor workers in the county. Commissioners unanimously passed the bill, but state Republicans stepped in to reverse it. | Wilfredo Lee/AP

MIAMI — In October 2023, Miami commissioners passed an ordinance requiring contractors and other employers doing outdoor work to provide workers with some form of shade and other means to cool off. But on April 12, 2024, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that overturned the ordinance and made illegal any local legal requirement to protect outdoor workers from the heat.

The Miami-Dade County legislation would ensure that outdoor workers such as roofers, farmworkers, landscapers and others who work in the sun have water breaks, shade and first aid. Given the recent record-breaking heat in Florida and elsewhere, workers welcomed the bill, which passed unanimously. Working in the hot, humid sun can cause heat stress, dehydration, sunstroke and, if left untreated, can kill.

There were reports of workers dying in South Florida and being found lying in ditches. The incidents were covered by local media, but for anyone who had worked in the hot sun, the consequences were not unexpected. Similar stories have been told around the world in recent weeks, including a large number of deaths linked to the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, and deaths from heat during the Indian elections.

But in ideological defiance of the reality of climate change, the Florida legislature stepped in and passed legislation on the last day of the session to counter Miami’s move. It passed a bill that would ban and nullify any local laws or regulations regarding heat safety regulations. These legislators have once again shown their contempt for workers, essentially telling them to bake in the deadly heat.

The arguments Republicans made during legislative hearings were their typical talking points. The most common claim was that the GOP did not oppose heat safety measures per se, but that having one county take the lead meant there could be a patchwork of different regulations that would interfere with contractors and employers’ ability to do business in different jurisdictions.

It is true that the state should have uniform regulations on employee safety, but this is not likely in the near future. Another argument was expressed by representatives posing as farmers, who said that the regulations protecting employees from the heat are insulting to their employers, who supposedly have already committed to protecting employees.

This backlash is nothing new for the Legislature. Every time a local government has passed or proposed legislation that would make life easier for working people, the Florida Legislature has gone into a frenzy to undo or block it. Over the past year, it has passed bills banning rent control, prohibiting eviction restrictions and blocking minimum wage initiatives. It has even banned legislation that requires employers to give employees two weeks’ notice of their work schedules. The Florida Legislature is there to serve — but only the needs of businesses.

This legislation blocking thermal safety protection is particularly severe and deadly. According to a local newspaper, Orlando WeeklyThe bill was written by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The newspaper was able to review communications between the companies and legislators and found that the bill was supported by many of Florida’s largest employers, including Disney, Florida Power and Light and Publix.

The role of these corporations in reversing worker safety efforts in Miami-Dade County was never publicly disclosed before the bill was passed and signed into law. The two million Floridians who make their living in the outdoors would certainly like to hear about the employers who fought to keep them cooking.

This action is especially cruel because there is no alternative to miserable wages and difficult working conditions in a non-union state like Florida.

Many news organizations reported public outrage over the bill, saying it painted a bad picture for the state, although corporations that rely on outside workers certainly find it appealing. Even the state government, accustomed to criticism for its reactionary policies, was a little embarrassed.

The Legislature rushed the bill late in the last legislative session. Gov. DeSantis quickly signed it into law but did not call in television cameras as he usually does.

He avoided talking about the bill at all, except to say that according to Ranger Orlandothat “it wasn’t anything from me.” This time there was no crowing, no ceremonial signing. They had to decide that a group of presidents and bosses gathered around the governor with a pen in hand would not be the best advertising.

Only five states have any heat protection regulations for outdoor workers. Washington state was among the first, passing legislation in 2008 that set a heat threshold of 89 degrees Fahrenheit to trigger additional safety measures. That threshold was recently lowered to 80.

Only two states, Texas and now Florida, have passed laws banning local governments from enforcing heat protection regulations. The remaining 43 states, whether Democratic or Republican, have no heat exposure standards.

At the federal level, the Department of Labor enforces worker safety regulations through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In 2022, it issued regulations and guidance on worker safety in hot and hazardous conditions. OSHA requires employers to provide a safe work environment for employees and has now included the Heat Stress Guidelines under its “general duty clause.” While this is a positive development, it leaves many workers out of the loop.

In Florida, as in many other states, undocumented workers do a lot of outdoor work. They are on construction sites, in fields picking vegetables and fruits, in stadiums and arenas, cleaning up after games, mowing golf courses, washing dishes, moving furniture, painting buildings and a seemingly endless list of other jobs. They have no workers’ compensation, no Social Security, and no unemployment benefits.

And more often than not, OSHA regulations are ignored by their employers. They are hired and paid by contractors, many of whom are unlicensed. These workers are often the most numerous among the workers toiling in the hot sun with inadequate protection.

Florida’s state government has a long history of disregarding workers’ rights, and Governor Desantis, a Republican-dominated state legislature, is working hard to maintain that legacy.

As for the heat, it can only get worse.

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ASSOCIATE

Thomas Egan