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Push to give outdoor workers extreme heat protections passes first hurdle in Miami-Dade

Farmworkers and construction workers marching in Downtown Miami to demand water, shade, and rest for outdoor workers in South Florida on May 1st.
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WeCount!
Farmworkers and construction workers marching in Downtown Miami to demand water, shade, and rest for outdoor workers in South Florida on May 1.

A push to give outdoor workers increased protections during episodes of extreme heat has passed its first test in Miami-Dade County, with the county commission voting unanimously to advance the item.

The proposal calls for a three-tiered system of protecting outdoor workers from extreme heat conditions. First, the proposed ordinance would grant outdoor workers the right to a ten minute rest in the shade for every two hours worked when the heat index rises above 90 degrees fahrenheit.

The ordinance would also provide increased heat safety training for outdoor workers and managers, and the creation of a new county office to keep outdoor workers safe.

The push comes in the midst of a historic heat wave in South Florida that has alarmed climate researchers. This past weekend the National Weather Service declared the first-ever excessive heat warning in Miami-Dade County history.

“We're seeing more and more people come in with diseases and illnesses that are related to heat stress. And so I’m seeing it in real time,” Arman Henderson, a University of Miami doctor who runs clinics for low income residents, told commissioners on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Soaring temps and record-breaking heat signal Florida’s steamy future

For 2020, the last year for which data is available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention registered 41 heat-related deaths in Florida.

The state is far from the worst in the nation. Arizona registered 373 that year, while California came in at 128, Nevada at 100 and Texas at 82.

Local data provided by the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office shows that between 2016 and 2023, nineteen deaths have been attributed to extreme heat conditions. Of them, a single incident from 2016 was related to outdoor work, when a landscaper died of a heat stroke.

Most heat-related deaths in Miami-Dade have been from elderly adults or young children being left in hot cars. In 2017, a 16-year-old died of a heat stroke during a June football practice.

Water, shade and rest

The agricultural worker rights group WeCount! has been spearheading a campaign for outdoor worker protections in Miami-Dade since 2021, in a campaign called ‘Quė Calor!” - 'how hot!' in Spanish.

In surveys the group conducted among agricultural workers, 51% of respondents said they were not allowed to rest in the shade even during the hottest part of the work day. Only 15% reported that they had ample access to safe drinking water and 69% self-reported that they experienced signs or symptoms of a heat-related illness.

“We think outdoor workers can’t wait any longer,” executive director Oscar Londoño said at a rally supporting the proposed protections in late June. “We’ve been waiting for years and we’ve been demanding basic life saving protections like water, shade and rest.”

“It’s time we do right by them and afford them the basic, life saving protections they deserve: water, shade and a break."
Santra Denis, executive director of the Miami Workers Center

According to age-adjusted estimates by the CDC, about 4,200 Floridians visited the emergency room for heat-related illnesses in 2021.

Workers who labor outdoors are in need of protections, say advocates. State law currently offers no extreme heat protections for outdoor workers, even as state emergency officials urge residents to take safety precautions during the ongoing heat wave.

“It’s time we do right by them and afford them the basic, life saving protections they deserve: water, shade and a break,” said Santra Denis, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, an advocacy group.

“We are ground zero right here in Miami-Dade County and in Florida for experiencing the impacts of climate change and should be leading the nation in solutions for the people, our people, our workers.”

The proposed ordinance passed the county unanimously 11-0. The next stop for the legislation is a committee meeting in September. If it clears that hurdle it would then go back to the full commission for a final vote.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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