Florida GOP Passes ‘Vicious’ Bill Banning Mandatory Water Breaks for Workers

“We will see fatalities, because of what Florida Republicans chose to do this week,” said one workers’ rights advocate.

By Julia Conley. Published 3-8-2024 by Common Dreams

Screenshot: VideoHive

Displaying “punitive cruelty” toward Florida residents who work outdoors, the Republican-controlled state House on Friday approved a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that workplaces provide water breaks and other cooling measures.

The state Senate passed the measure on Thursday, with Republicans pushing the bill through as Miami-Dade County was scheduled to vote on local water break protections. If signed into law by the Republican governor, the proposal will preempt the county’s vote.

Roughly 2 million workers are expected to be affected by the legislation in Florida, where parts of the state experienced record-breaking heat last year. Meteorologists found that last month was the hottest February ever recorded globally, and the ninth straight month to set such a record.

Miami-Dade County officials estimate that 34 people die from heat-related causes each year.

“Every single year, it’s going to get hotter and hotter,” Oscar Londoño, executive director of worker advocacy group WeCount!, toldThe Guardian. “Many more workers’ lives are going to be at risk. We will see fatalities, because of what Florida Republicans chose to do this week.”

Londoño called the bill a “cruel… bad faith attempt to keep labor conditions very low for some of the most vulnerable workers.”

Under the legislation, cities and counties will be prohibited from setting workplace standards that require drinking water, cooling measures, and recovery periods after grueling work in hot weather. Requiring companies to facilitate emergency responses or to post or distribute materials informing workers about staying safe in sweltering heat would also be prohibited.

“The vicious inhumanity at the heart of this legislation will cost the lives of and impose needless suffering on workers—especially workers of color and immigrant workers, who make up a disproportionate share of agricultural and construction workers—across the state,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen. “Gov. Ron DeSantis should veto this legislation.”

There are no federal protections requiring that workplaces protect employees from the dangers of working in hot and humid conditions, even after scientists projected last year that heat-related deaths will continue to rise.

In 2021 the Biden administration called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop workplace heat safety standards, but it has not yet done so.

Republicans in Texas passed a bill last year that would have prevented cities from enacting and passing local ordinances, including those that require water breaks and other worker protections. A district court ruled that the proposal was unconstitutional last August, just before it was set to go into effect.

Fulcher said Congress must pass the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, which was named for a worker who became unconscious after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree heat in 2004. His employer did not call an ambulance but instead directed Valdivia’s son to drive his father home. Valdivia died of heat stroke soon after at the age of 53.

The federal law would direct OSHA to immediately adopt interim heat standards while officials continue the process of adopting a final rule.

“With Florida joining Texas in preempting even the most minor workplace protections for excessive heat exposure,” said Fulcher, “it’s past time for the federal government to step up.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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