A Texas law has overridden labor ordinances in cities that sought to prevent heat deaths and illnesses among construction workers.
House Bill 2127 took power away from the state's largely Democratic-run cities and puts it in the hands of the Republican-controlled state government after being signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday. Many existing city ordinances, including heat protections for outdoor workers, have now been nullified.
The prevents cities from raising their minimum wage above the state minimum, and was initially created in direct opposition of city laws requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave. Many local employers and legislatures have criticized the law for hindering economic growth.
“If you just address worker safety and do it in a consistent manner, then that should be good for business,” state Rep. Maria Luisa Flores, a Democrat, told The Washington Post. “You don’t want your employees dying from heat illness because that impacts your business. I think employers should be some of the folks that are for worker protections.”
At least 53 Texas workers have died of heat-related illness since 2010, according to NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations. The number of 100-degree days is also increasing due to climate change, and is expected to nearly double by 2036.
Currently, no national heat protection standard for outdoor workers exists in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) relies on state- and city- mandates. No statewide protections exist in Texas, including offering water breaks in shaded areas, heat illness response, access to air-conditioned spaces, and access to sunscreen and sweat-wicking apparel.
Workers Defense Project, a Texas-based labor advocacy group, previously publicly called on OSHA to make a federal heat standard, saying Texas workers are being neglected by lawmakers who are “anti-worker."
The Texas legislature only meets every two years. Flores added that next session, she hopes to introduce a heat protection bill.
“Texas has always had a really hard uphill battle on workers’ rights and, you know, unfortunately, the current climate is almost certainly going to exacerbate that," she said.