In scorching-hot Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott just took away construction workers’ right to a rest break KossyDerrickBlog KossyDerrickEnt

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Sunday, June 18, 2023

In scorching-hot Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott just took away construction workers’ right to a rest break

In scorching-hot Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott just took away construction workers’ right to a rest break.

Heat waves are extreme weather events, often more dangerous than tornadoes, severe thunderstorms or floods. High temperatures kill people, and not just in the workplace. Last year, there were 279 heat-related deaths in Texas, based on data analysis by The Texas Tribune.

In 2022, Texas saw its second-hottest summer on record, and an extreme drought swept the state. This summer is not expected to be as hot as the weather pattern known as La Niña eases, which typically brings dry conditions to Texas, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said.

In a week when parts of the state are getting triple-digit temperatures and weather officials urge Texans to stay cool and hydrated, Gov. Greg Abbott gave final approval to a law that will eliminate local rules mandating water breaks for construction workers.

House Bill 2127 was passed by the Texas Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session. Abbott signed it Tuesday. It will go into effect on Sept. 1.

Supporters of the law have said it will eliminate a patchwork of local ordinances across the state that bog down businesses. The law’s scope is broad but ordinances that establish minimum breaks in the workplace are one of the explicit targets. The law will nullify ordinances enacted by Austin in 2010 and Dallas in 2015 that established 10-minute breaks every four hours so that construction workers can drink water and protect themselves from the sun. It also prevents other cities from passing such rules in the future. San Antonio has been considering a similar ordinance.

Texas is the state where the most workers die from high temperatures, government data shows. At least 42 workers died in Texas between 2011 and 2021 from environmental heat exposure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers’ unions claim this data doesn’t fully reflect the magnitude of the problem because heat-related deaths are often recorded under a different primary cause of injury.

Unions expect heat-related deaths to go up if mandated water breaks go away.

“Construction is a deadly industry. Whatever the minimum protection is, it can save a life. We are talking about a human right,” said Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of policy and politics at the Texas AFL-CIO. “We will see more deaths, especially in Texas’ high temperatures.”

Construction worker Mario Ontiveros is facing a wave of dangerous heat, with temperatures well into the 90s and extreme humidity.

Because he works in Dallas, a local ordinance gives him the right to at least a 10-minute rest break every four hours. But this is the last summer he’ll get to claim it.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127 — the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act — which bars cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state ones. It also overturns local rules such as ordinances in Austin and Dallas that mandate rest breaks for construction workers.

Three years before Dallas implemented its rest-break ordinance in 2015, Ontiveros lost feeling in his arm after painting high school stadium stairs for more than 10 hours in 112-degree heat, he told Public Health Watch through a translator.

“The other workers called paramedics and I was rushed to the hospital, where I spent seven days battling tendonitis,” Ontiveros, 61, said. “Aside from the physical and emotional trauma of recovering from an illness exacerbated by extreme heat, I was out seven days of work, with no help from work to pay my medical bills.”

The state law that overrides the Dallas and Austin ordinances is scheduled to take effect Sept. 1. State Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Republican from Lubbock who authored HB 2127, said in a press release that the law is needed to end “the current hodgepodge of onerous and burdensome regulations.” But for construction workers in two of the state’s fastest-growing cities, advocates say, it poses serious health risks.

“We know that workers do pass out and experience heat stress and different types of heat illnesses,” said Daniela Hernandez, state legislative coordinator for the Workers Defense Action Fund, a Texas-based advocacy group that pushed for the rest-break ordinances. 

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