New Orleans I was talking to an old comrade, friend, and Local 100 organizer from back-in-the-day, Jon Barton, who among other things heads up the climate initiatives for the SEIU, the giant US-based Service Employees International Union. He had mentioned in an interview for Wade’s World how seriously the union was taking the process of developing impending rules by OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, for heat standards for inside and outside work. You would think the conversations were being monitored, because the next thing you know there is a long article about exactly this issue in the New York Times, the next morning, another one of these “strange, but true” coincidences.
The short story is that OSHA is now in the long, drawn-out process now of trying to come up with worker protections in order to try and advance a potential rule for comment early next year. Given the power of industry, agriculture, and generally corporate America, a rule-making can involve more than fifty steps to completion that have been larded onto the affair by various presidential edicts and Congressional restrictions. Nonetheless, as Jon argued, climate concern and the recent heat waves have made the need urgent and undeniable.
What can be done? Well, the long-hanging fruit is easy to identify. Many would be shocked at how few warehouses and manufacturing plants, along with other workspaces, have no ventilation and lack heat, air-conditioning, or even fans. Remember the Pennsylvania Amazon plant where so many ambulances were taking workers away with heatstroke a couple of years ago? Now, we even have “heat domes” in places, like the Pacific Northwest that thought they were immune and more than 50 days in a row of temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix. For outside workers, more water, more breaks, better uniforms and headgear would all help tremendously, but frankly it starts with employers taking heat seriously and marrying that to some real concern for the stress and strain that workers are facing in this new climate reality. When the time for comments on any new rules finally get here, we all need to saddle up and have our say to offset the lobbying tsunami that is predictable.
This discussion is common across ACORN as well. There was a lot of discussion about heat ordinances in the recent ACORN Canada meetings. A bylaw is being studied now in Hamilton, and other cities are now being pushed by ACORN tenant unions for something similar. ACORN eco-tenant unions are demanding retrofits to make units more able to deal with temperature extremes, and demanding specific benchmarks that would trigger remedial and preventive steps. France in the wake of recent heatwaves is also campaigning for heat standards. This is a global issue where climate can be dealt with at the grassroots, just as others are confronting the same concerns in their workplaces.
We need to beat the heat.