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Working In This Heat? Take Care…And Confront The Climate Crisis

July 17, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

New construction at BBP.
Oppressive heat puts workers in immediate jeopardy.

Brooklyn, NY – Right now, at the time of this writing, the temperature out on these mean city streets feels like a blistering 103-degrees; Congress is seriously considering a newly introduced bill seeking to better protect U.S. workers from heat related deaths; and the Democratic National Committee is under pressure to host a presidential debate on the coming climate catastrophe. You can try and run and hide — but you’ll probably keel over from the heat. 

How hot is it? Alaska experienced 4th of July temperatures in excess of 90-degrees, while Paris, France followed up last spring’s near-total-destruction of Notre Dame with a record-setting 114-degree day in June. Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic all opened up the summer of 2019 with record shattering temperatures of their own. 

And everywhere you look, lately, from California to Catalonia, municipalities have been battling some of the worst wildfires seen in decades. 

On the tiny island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, visitors are hard pressed to find anyone who will rent them a bicycle anymore. When pressed, vendors talk about Hurricane Maria and the “rusting bicycles” the devastating 2017 storm left behind — but it’s also just as likely, too, that in recent years, it’s just become too damned hot for tourists to pedal to their favorite white sand beach. Covered golf carts, instead, have become the preferred mode of light transportation here. 

The rising temperatures being felt everywhere is undeniable. Scorching heat claimed the lives of 815 American working men and women between the years 1992 and 2017. Another 70,000 sustained serious injury while working on the job. 

The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act that Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced earlier this month, seeks to create a new federal standard for heat stress protections covering both outdoor and indoor workers. 

Codifying fundamental things like more water, shade, rest and training for workers carrying out their duties in increasingly stifling temperatures will help save the lives of sanitation workers, warehouse workers, traffic agents, roofers — the list goes on.

Indeed, heat-related deaths on the job demand immediate action. But they also inform the need to seriously confront the overarching threat of climate change that the fossil fuel economy has wrought.

But is the DNC listening? Is anyone twisting their ear or giving them a swift kick in the pants? 

Seven years ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City. In one part of Southern Brooklyn alone, storm surges caused the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to collide headlong with Sheepshead Bay, drowning the sleepy hamlet of Manhattan Beach in the process. 

Trade unionists throughout the city — plumbers, electricians, utility workers and many others — worked tirelessly to help New Yorkers recover from that crisis. Workers everywhere deserve the increased protections that the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act seeks to provide. But there can be no protection from unchecked climate change. For that, society — and Labor’s Democratic friends — will need to change. 

In the meantime, NYC’s forecast calls for weekend temperatures in the triple digits. Everyone, try to stay cool and share some solidarity with all your brothers and sisters at work.

July 17, 2019

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