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Long-awaited Miami-Dade vote on heat protections for workers gets pushed back to 2024

Dozens of people sit in a crowded auditorium.
Carl Juste
/
Miami Herald
Construction workers pay close attention while waiting for the Miami-Dade Commission to vote on the heat standard bill. Miami-Dade residents and stakeholders rallied in support or opposition to a potential array of protections for outdoor workers, a first in the nation county-level heat standard inside the Miami-Dade Commission chambers at County Hall in downtown Miami, Florida on Tuesday November 7, 2023.

Following hours of discussion on Tuesday, Miami-Dade commissioners chose to delay a long-awaited vote until next March on a controversial heat-related ordinance proposal that would protect outdoor workers in the agriculture and construction industries.

The measure, if passed by commissioners, would represent the first of its kind in the South.

The proposal would implement a heat exposure safety education program, enact required 10 minute paid shaded rest and water breaks every two hours on high heat days, and set up a new County Office to enforce the heat standard rules.

Hundreds of people — spilling out from the commission chambers — came to Tuesday’s commission meeting. But commissioners did not give anyone from the public a chance to speak directly about the ordinance.

READ MORE: "Activists want Miami-Dade commissioners to back protections for outdoor workers in extreme heat"

Supporters say the ordinance would provide basic, necessary protections for farm and construction workers across the county.

Homestead-based farmworker Reyna Osorio told WLRN she’s afraid to speak up at work when experiencing heat illness symptoms, fearing she could be fired or have her pay docked for complaining.

“It seems unjust,” said Osorio, who feels some employers are more worried about their costs rather than the health of workers regularly exposed to the heat. “We’re trying to take care of our health and [my boss] doesn’t care about our health. He has no love for us, his workers.”

District 2 Commissioner Marliene Bastien, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance, called for tabling the vote to give commissioners more time to consider passage.

“We do agree that outdoor workers deserve the protection that this legislation will offer,” Bastien said. “And they deserve to be protected because we know that some of them have died as a result of heat illnesses, heat strokes.”

"[Workers] deserve to be protected because we know that some of them have died as a result of heat illnesses, heat strokes.”
Commissioner Marliene Bastien, a co-sponsor of the legislation

Opponents, including District 8 Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins, said the proposal isn’t fair and balanced, and could diminish the agriculture and construction businesses.

“This is not a heat standard. This is an overreaching and an egregious heat sanction on only two industries,” she said. “This ordinance could potentially kill industry.

One Homestead farmer, Sam Accursio, who is the county’s Vice Chair of the Agricultural Practices Advisory Board, said he and others in agriculture already provide safeguards that workers are demanding under the proposed ordinance.

He said he was disappointed not to be able to speak to the commission, saying that he took offense at being labeled as “murderers and exploiters of labor” during the proposal’s first reading.

Accursio also feels that industry leaders, like him, were largely ignored during the drafting of the proposed legislation.

Esteban Wood, policy director for WeCount!, a nonprofit advocacy group in Homestead for immigrant workers, told WLRN that there need to be mechanisms in place to hold bad-faith employers accountable.

“The idea of having some deterrence for noncompliance is absolutely fundamental to this piece of legislation, because what we're seeing on a day to day basis is workers being denied access to water breaks on the job,” he said. “That is abhorrent.”

"This is not a heat standard. This is an overreaching and an egregious heat sanction on only two industries. This ordinance could potentially kill industry.
District 8 Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins, opponent to the legislation

The measure’s opponents called for more attention on education about heat protection and not law enforcement actions.

“I think education and training best practices are really the only way that this is going to move forward in a positive way to help both the employee and the employers,” said Miami Dade Farm Bureau’s Vice President Heather Moehling. “It's frankly insulting that we're being told that we're not taking care of our employees.”

Supporters vowed to continue to push commissioners to pass the ordinance.

“In the coming months, we will continue to organize to win the first municipal heat standard in the country,” said Oscar Londoño, WeCount!’s co-executive director. “We know we’re on the right side of history, and we hope our county commissioners will join us and pass this legislation in March.”

The commission’s vote over the summer followed a series of stories published in July by the Miami Herald, "Sizzling South Florida," that documented the deadly consequences of extreme heat caused by climate change on those working outdoors and the overall South Florida economy.

This summer, the United States, along with other northern hemisphere countries, witnessed record temperatures. July and August were the hottest months in recorded history by scientists and major U.S. and international climate and weather services ever recorded.

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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