Texas gets very hot in the summer, with temperatures rising well over triple digits and making manual outdoor labor not just uncomfortable but downright dangerous. As a result, some municipalities such as Dallas and Austin have passed ordinances that require employers to give a 10-minute water break every four hours. That seems to me to be nowhere close to enough but even that is too much for the governor Greg Abbott who has signed into law a measure passed by the Republican legislature that bans local governments from enforcing such ordinances.
The measure, which will take effect later this year, will nullify ordinances enacted by Austin and Dallas that mandate 10-minute breaks for construction workers every four hours. It also prevents any other local governments from passing similar worker protections.
Just days after Greg Abbott, the governor, ratified the law, officials said a 35-year-old utility lineman working to restore power in Marshall, Texas, died after experiencing symptoms of heat illness. The heat index – which takes into account both the temperature and humidity – was 100F (37C) while he was working.
So why did the Republicans take this cruel step? To make life easier for businesses of course that lobbied for it.
[T]he Republican lawmakers pushing the new law have said it eliminates a “hodgepodge of onerous and burdensome regulations” that Texas businesses face. The effort aims to prevent cities and counties from enacting progressive policies that counter the state Republican supermajority’s aims.
“For too long, progressive municipal officials and agencies have made Texas small businesses jump through contradictory and confusing hoops,” said the Republican state representative Dustin Burrows, who introduced the bill.
Of course the humane solution to their concerns is obvious: make such breaks mandatory across the state, thus ensuring uniformity and easy compliance. But that of course cannot be allowed because it would harm profits.
After the state’s second-hottest summer on record last year, Democratic legislators introduced bills that would have set heat illness guidelines for Texas businesses and required mandatory breaks for government contractors, but those efforts failed to advance.
It probably does not need to be said that the workers who are going to be most affected by these laws are Latino and Black.
Six out of every 10 construction workers in Texas are Latino, and labor advocates say that the law will hurt Latino and Black communities that are already disproportionately affected by extreme heat. Hispanic workers made up a third of all worker heat deaths since 2010, according to an NPR/Columbia study.
Local protections are crucial, advocates say, because the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) does not have a national heat protection standard.
Sometimes, in my more cynical moments, I think that cruelty is not an unfortunate byproduct of harmful actions taken for other reasons, but that it is actually part of the motivation.