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Climate Change Becomes New Bargaining Chip in Labor Negotiations

27 Jul, 2023 Chriss Swaney

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Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com -- UPS recently reached a tentative agreement with 340,000 of its unionized workers, and one of the union’s biggest bargaining chips was climate change. “Workers are so relieved that they will be getting the big box trucks air conditioned by 2024,’’ said Dan Eabis of the Teamsters. The agreement also promises higher wages.

“Climate change is going to continue to be a big bargaining chip for unions and all workers who have to endure long stretches at outdoor jobs in this extreme heat,’’ said Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “Our institutions have not kept up with the changing workplace, so we will see more creative ways for workers to challenge old rules,’’ he added.

In fact, an Austin, Texas Congressman just ended a thirst and hunger strike after more than eight hours to get better heat protection for workers. U.S. Representative Greg Casar orchestrated the strike. His staff reported the strike had ended late Tuesday. The Thirst Strike for worker’s rights was organized by the freshman Congressman because a new Texas state law takes effect September 1 that eliminates a wide range of local regulations including an Austin ordinance that mandates water breaks for construction workers.

More than 400 workers have died in heat waves since 2011, according to the Department of Labor Statistics.

Casar is pushing for adoption of federal standards to require rest and water breaks and training to deal with heat-related illness. A letter to the U.S. Department of Labor and OHSA was signed by more than 100 of his colleagues.

Because there is no national law or standard to protect workers who must operate in extreme outdoor temperatures, unions and some politicians are demanding changes to protect workers.

For the first time, the iconic UPS brown delivery trucks will be air-conditioned following a wave of incidents in New York and across the country in which workers suffered heat-related illnesses and in at least one case died. At lease six UPS drivers in the New York City region suffered heat-related illness during a week- long heat wave last summer, the city reported.

At Folino Construction in Pittsburgh, water coolers are an essential part of the operating equipment. And for Tom Messenger at Messenger Contracting in Verona, Pa, shake breaks and break time in an air-conditioned club cab on his truck help him beat the intense heat. And when it gets too oppressive outside, Messenger says he shifts work to indoor projects to escape the heat.

Workers take regular water breaks at Bastone Auto Service in Pittsburgh’s upscale Shadyside neighborhood. But Carl Bastone says part of his garage is underground and because of its location stays pretty cool all the time. “We are ok,’’ he said.

The cost of workplace heat stress in the U.S. based on lost work time due to worker capacity is estimated to be nearly $100 billion every year, according to the Labor Department.

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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