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June 2024

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Extreme Heat, Cruel Laws

With June's arrival, lots of us are looking forward to camping trips, beach vacations and other joys of summer. Unfortunately, summer isn't nearly so carefree for our brothers and sisters working outdoors in extreme heat.

Based on 2024 forecasts, the record hot temperatures that our outside construction and line workers endured last year are going to be even hotter this summer. Considering that the desert Southwest suffered historic stretches of 110-degree highs, that's alarming.

Working with the IBEW and other unions, some states have passed laws ensuring workers relief from the heat. But, shockingly, other states are trying to make scorching days even more dangerous, with GOP-controlled legislatures pushing for bans on mandatory water, shade and rest breaks.

So far, they've succeeded in Texas and Florida, where workers already had no state-level protections against heat illnesses, injuries and death. Their new laws make it illegal for cities and counties to pass and enforce their own rules requiring water and cooling breaks.

If you haven't experienced the strain of working in those conditions, try to imagine it: Constant thirst, rivers of sweat stinging your eyes and fogging your vision, drenched clothing sticking to your body under the extra insulation of protective gear.

Now imagine suffering through that without an IBEW contract spelling out water, shade and rest breaks. Because right now in Texas and Florida, the law won't protect you.

The heat in Arizona last summer killed so many people in the Phoenix area that the county had to bring back COVID-era refrigerated trucks to hold all the bodies. Yet our adversaries are blasting the Phoenix City Council for voting in March to require employers and contractors to provide heat breaks, along with training to recognize the signs of heat stress. They are also raging at Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs for rolling out the state's first-ever Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan.

That plan is the kind of progress that happens when we elect responsible leaders. Like it or not, job safety and politics go hand in hand. Whether our lives and ability to make a living are well protected depends in large part on decisions made at the local, state and national levels.

We're proud to have helped pass heat safety laws in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada and Minnesota, and are pushing other states to follow suit.

And, of course, we'll never stop fighting for safety at the bargaining table. But even there, politics matter. The stronger that state laws are in protecting workers' rights, the stronger we are in negotiating good wages, benefits, and safe and healthy working conditions.

In other words, how you vote helps us help you — from job safety to the vacation time I hope you'll be enjoying with your family and friends this summer. But please stay cool!


Also: Cooper: Climate Jobs Are Here Read Cooper's Column

Paul A. Noble

Paul A. Noble
International Secretary-Treasurer