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As Heatwave Hits Texas, Gov. Abbott Rolls Back Worker Heat Protections 

27 Jun, 2023 Liz Carey

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Austin, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – As Texas enters its third week of record-breaking heat, Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a law that would roll back local rules protecting workers from heat illness.  

The legislation introduced earlier this year, will repeal local ordinances in Austin and Dallas that mandate 10-minute water breaks for construction workers every four hours. The legislation also prevents other local government from passing similar protections.  

Texas has seen triple-digit temperatures for the past two weeks, and forecaster predict the heatwave will continue through July 4. Already, Corpus Christi has hit 125 degrees, while Rio Grande Village has reached 118 degrees and Del Rio has reached 115. The heat follows a weekend of storms left a destructive path that left hundreds of thousands of residents without power. Caused by hot ocean air that is trapped in the atmosphere, the “heat dome” over Mexico and parts of the U.S. is expected to keep New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri in the scorching heat. 

“These conditions are very stressful to the people living in the region. We are seeing a really intense, wide-spread, and long-lasting event,” Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at non-profit Climate Central, told the Guardian. “Human-caused climate change made these conditions more than five times more likely.” 

Texas has urged residents to cut back on their air conditioning use to ease stress on the electric grid. Six of the 10 hottest cities in America on Friday were in Texas. And the heat index is predicted to reach 110 to 120 degrees or higher across the state well into July.  

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 702 heat-related deaths happen every year. But in 2021, 69 people in Oregon alone died from the heat.  

Heat presents health and safety risks for older adults, young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and workers who work outside.  

In fact, just days after Abbot signed the law, officials said a 35-year-old utility lineman working to restore power in Marshall, Texas died from heat illness. The heat index the day the worker died was 100 degrees, weather reports indicate.  

The worker’s death could be a portent of what is to come for outdoor workers, advocates said. Though the legislation, HB 2127, does not take effect until September, the law curbs cities’ rights to enact worker protections for agriculture workers, natural resource workers, and others.  

“Banning required rest breaks for construction workers in the Texas heat is deadly,” members of the AFL-CIO in Texas said on its website.  

Advocates said the law will result in even more heat-related deaths and illnesses in a state that already sees the highest number of temperature related worker deaths in the country.  

“In the midst of a record-setting heatwave, I could not think of a worse time for this governor or any elected official who has any, any kind of compassion, to do this,” said David Cruz, the communications director for League of United Latin American Citizens National (Lulac), a Latino civil rights group. “This administration is incrementally trying to move us backwards into a dark time in this nation. When plantation owners and agrarian mentalities prevailed.” 

Local protections are necessary, advocates said, because the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to enact a national heat protection standard.  

Republican lawmakers in Texas said the new law eliminates burdens for Texas businesses. Law makers said the law will protect businesses from progressive regulations.  

“For too long, progressive municipal officials and agencies have made Texas small businesses jump through contradictory and confusing hoops,” state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-83rd), the bill’s primary sponsor. 

Last year, after the state’s second hottest summer on record, Democratic legislators proposed bills to outline heat illness guideline for Texas businesses that would have also required mandatory breaks for government contractors. Those bills died in the Republican controlled legislature.  

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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