Miami’s 100-Degree Heat Fuels Push to Mandate Worker Relief

As a brutal heat wave covers much of the US in record temperatures, labor groups are pushing for measures to protect outdoor workers by mandating water breaks and periods out of the blazing sun.

(Bloomberg) — As a brutal heat wave covers much of the US in record temperatures, labor groups are pushing for measures to protect outdoor workers by mandating water breaks and periods out of the blazing sun.

The latest effort is in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, home to more than 300,000 workers whose jobs require them to be outside. Commissioners gave preliminary approval this week to requiring a 10-minute rest in the shade every two hours to people working in agriculture and construction. The measure also mandates employers to provide drinking water and training on how to spot and treat heat-related illness. 

“This campaign is a matter of life and death,” Oscar Londoño, co-director of workers’ lobby WeCount. “They don’t want to have to sacrifice their lives just to be able to provide for their families.”


There are no federal heat protections like the ones proposed in Miami in place for outdoor workers. California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have enacted similar proposals, and Minnesota has related rules for indoor workers. Bills to establish heat protections have been introduced at a statewide level in Florida, most recently in May, but didn’t pass.

In Texas, cities that had policies mandating breaks for workers were undermined last month when Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that limits the power of municipalities to make their own rules. The city of Houston said it has sued the state to challenge the law.

Read More: It’s 97F in Phoenix Before the Sun’s Even Risen: Weather Watch

Nationwide, efforts to protect workers in outdoor occupations are becoming more urgent as climate change fuels extreme temperatures. Miami and much of the southern US has seen blistering heat over the past few weeks, with the heat index in the Florida city topping 100F (38C) for a record 39 consecutive days as of Wednesday. The heat in Texas has been so intense this summer that the state has been breaking power-demand records.

The National Weather Service warns that prolonged exposure and physical activity in such temperatures is likely to cause sunstroke, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. 

“Extreme heat is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous consequences of climate change,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “We protect our county workers through our own workplace policies and urge others to do the same, with rest breaks, access to shade and electrolyte beverages.”

Opponents of heat-safety laws, like Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton, argue they create unnecessary regulations that could cause “compliance nightmares.” Those in favor say business benefits more from investing in heat protections for workers than facing the losses caused by on-the-job heat-related problems.

Read More: Texas Wrests Power From Local Governments With Sweeping New Law

The US loses an average of about $100 billion annually from heat-induced labor issues, according to a report by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. That number may double by 2030 and reach $500 billion annually nationwide by 2050 without meaningful action to reduce emissions, the report says. 

Florida’s economy already loses over $10 billion a year because of extreme heat, second only to Texas, according to the report. These losses are disproportionately felt by Black and Hispanic workers, who tend to live in more heat-exposed regions in the state and nationwide.

Miami-Dade’s proposed protections for workers must still go through a committee hearing and then pass a vote by the entire county commission, a process that could take months. If the measure becomes law, employers could be fined as much as $3,000 for multiple violations. 

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