As deadly fires continue to rage out of control, scientists have confirmed that the record temperatures experienced in Europe, China and the United States are due to human-induced climate change.
They are due to the fossil fuel industry and its decades-long campaign to deny the scientific evidence, spread doubt, and continue drilling. Yes, it is that simple.
And now, workers in the U.S. have had enough of working in extreme temperatures without adequate protections and breaks. And yesterday, the Teamsters Union reached a historic deal with the courier company, UPS, over worker rights and worker protections, including over heat.
?“WE’VE CHANGED THE GAME”: TEAMSTERS WIN HISTORIC UPS CONTRACT?
Today, the #Teamsters reached the most historic tentative agreement for workers in the history of @UPS, protecting and rewarding more than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide. #1u pic.twitter.com/4Ap3j4XUTD
— Teamsters (@Teamsters) July 25, 2023
You can see why the Teamsters want heat protection. Although not outside all day, delivery drivers still have to drop off over hundreds of parcels, often walking upstairs carrying heavy items. It is no wonder that at least 143 UPS drivers have suffered severe heat or dehydration-related injuries since 2015, including delivery drivers dying and collapsing on peoples’ doorsteps.
The Teamster victory is a reminder that as our climate emergency intensifies, workers’ rights must be updated and changed to adapt to intense heat.
Scientists are alarmed by how fast our weather is changing and how much temperatures are rapidly increasing. From Antarctica to the Arctic, there are alarm bells ringing everywhere. We are entering an era of the new normal. Or, as climate scientist Michael Mann puts it: the new abnormal.
Unprecedented heat, flooding and wildfires are part of “the new abnormal,” says climate scientist @MichaelEMann, who warns that the planet will continue to get warmer and experience more extreme weather events if carbon emissions are not brought down to zero. pic.twitter.com/8HFOvwnK0y
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) July 24, 2023
In our unpredictable new abnormal, we could all be exposed to fires, floods, heat and storms. But some are more at risk than others. Dr. Friederike Otto at Imperial College London, UK, who was part of the team from the World Weather Attribution group that led the analysis, told the Guardian that “such heatwaves are no longer rare, and the most important thing is, these extremes kill people, particularly destroying the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.”
Otto said it was “absolutely critical” that governments agree to phase out fossil fuels at the UN climate summit Cop28. “We still have time to secure a safe and healthy future. If we do not, tens of thousands of people will keep dying from heat-related causes each year.”
And people are dying already in the US. CNN reports, “a record heat wave stretching from California to Florida has caused dozens of deaths, filled some hospitals to pandemic levels and prompted government warnings about avoiding extended exposure to heat.”
But impacts from the extreme heat go beyond the United States. The World Weather Attribution group study notes, “Several heat deaths have been confirmed in the US, including migrants on the US-Mexican border; in Mexico alone, over 200 people died due to the heat.” Meanwhile, “Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Algeria, and China also reported heat deaths, as well as a large increase in hospitalisation due to heat-related illnesses.”
Workers, especially those who are low-paid, often migrant workers who work outside with no protection, are on the frontline of our rising temperatures and the threat that intense heat poses. “We have rising risks from heat,” Julie Arrighi, director of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre and one of the researchers with World Weather Attribution, told the New York Times. “It is deadly.”
Heat and how to protect workers is rapidly becoming a huge political issue.
In the U.S., no federal laws stop an employer from forcing workers to work outside in searing heat. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is only now drafting a heat standard for workplaces. Experts believe it could be years before it occurs, even decades. Before then, many more will die.
As one would expect, powerful business lobby groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, object to the new rules. It is not surprising that labor unions have been pressuring for formal standards.
CNN reports that a 2022 letter by the AFL-CIO states, “the need for enforceable standards to ensure employers are implementing the proper controls to protect workers in high-heat conditions is greater than ever.” It continued, “As the global temperature rises, workers are even more at risk for occupational heat exposures.”
Without federal rules, it is up to individual states to develop their rules. And this can be devastating. You can work outside in deadly heat until you die. More workers die in the oil-rich state of Texas from searing heat, than anywhere else in the U.S.
Yet despite this, and despite the searing temperatures in June this year, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill banning mandatory water breaks for construction workers. The bill, labelled by critics as the “Death Star,” will go into law on September 1, 2023.
Speaking on Democracy Today, Jeff Goodall, who has a new book out entitled, The Heat Will Kill you First – Life and Death on a Scorched Planet, said the bill in Texas was “barbaric” and bordering on “racist,” as it will affect many migrant low paid workers, many who come from Mexico. “This legislation that the governor has signed is going to directly result in the deaths of many Texans,” says Goodall.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Teamsters union members were demanding new working conditions, including updated heat protections. The Guardian reports that some 340,000 Teamsters union members working for UPS had made “heat a central issue” of their ongoing contract negotiations with their employer.
If heat protections had not been included in UPS’s new five-year contract, the Teamsters were prepared to hold one of the most significant single-employer strikes starting next week. They were not alone in threatening to strike. Amazon workers have been on strike over protections from extreme heat for the last month in California too.
No one should die at work. No one should die from the heat. That is why Oil Change International stands with the Teamsters and other workers demanding worker protection from our rapidly warming world. Workers should be protected from the new abnormal.