Lawmakers in California push for federal protections from heat stress for US workers

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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Unsafe working conditions are always dangerous, but with the extreme heat, they can be life-threatening. Now, there's a push to establish protections for workers across the country.

Unsafe working conditions are always dangerous, but with the extreme heat, they can be life-threatening. Now, there's a push to establish protections for workers across the country.

Joined by labor union representatives and workers at the L.A. County Federation of Labor on Tuesday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and Congresswoman Judy Chu discussed a bill they're proposing that would speed up the establishment of a federal heat stress standard for indoor and outdoor workers.

"Heat wave seasons are getting longer, not just hotter, but hotter and longer. And yet, our country has never passed a federal heat standard to protect our workers who work under these conditions," said Senator Padilla.

Representative Chu went on to highlight the tragic death of a 24-year-old UPS driver, Esteban Chavez, in Pasadena earlier this summer.

"...He died from heatstroke as he finished his last deliveries of the day," she said

The bill is named after Asunción Valdivia, a farmworker who died in 2004 after picking grapes in triple-digit temperatures for 10 hours.

"His son had to watch his father die of a preventable heatstroke at the age of 53," said Chu. "Because of this, the UFW and I worked to get protections for these workers. That is how California became the first state in the nation to have protections for outdoor workers from excessive heat."

Factory workers, construction workers, warehouse workers and others are also impacted, stressed Padilla. A garment worker who's currently unemployed described having to endure the steam of an iron while working against a wall in a space with no air conditioning.

Meantime, warehouse workers in San Bernardino recently staged a walkout over wages and heat conditions.

"These workers are working really hard. They're not just standing around. They're moving, they're running. They're lifting heavy boxes while they're dealing with this heat, and that really puts it over the top sometimes for people," said Sherheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Workers Resource Center in Ontario.

Some changes were made but workers continue advocating for safer conditions.

"Workers can and should be able to speak up and say, 'We need extra breaks. We need to be able to take a water break. It's too hot'," said Kaoosji.

Workers can file confidential complaints to Cal/OSHA by calling 833-579-0927 and find more resources on Heat Illness Prevention here.