So they’re trying to get ahead of it.
A new group of Democratic members from the House and Senate are banding together to push the Biden administration to create new federal rules to protect workers from heat-related injuries on the job.
In a letter slated to be sent by the group on Monday, Democrats are asking for better regulations to ensure workers have adequate water breaks, rests, shaded areas or air conditioning, medical services, and “a plan for acclimatization to high-heat work conditions.”
The letter is led by Rep. Greg Casar (TX) and co-led by Reps. Judy Chu (CA), Sylvia Garcia (TX), Raúl Grijalva (AZ) and Bobby Scott (VA), along with Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Alex Padilla (CA) and Bernie Sanders (VT).
As of Sunday evening, the letter had 112 signatures and is addressed to acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and OSHA Assistant Secretary Douglas Parker, according to a copy shared with The Daily Beast. (OSHA is part of the Department of Labor.)
“This very common sense proposal to make sure that workers have the water breaks they need—this is the kind of thing that it shouldn’t be a left-or-right issue,” Casar said.
Casar said he’s met with the head of OSHA a handful of times. “They were committed to working on this, but of course they're going to face opposition from big business interests that try to slow down worker protections,” he said.
“And it became clear to me after that conversation that Congress needed to be heavily advocating for this if we wanted to get it done,” Casar added.
Labor regulations remain one of the trickier subject areas for Congress to enact bipartisan policy on. Just last term, Democrats alone were forced to nix a provision on universal paid leave from their Build Back Better Act because they couldn’t secure votes from moderate Democrats in the Senate.
This Congress hasn’t made much progress on labor issues either between the Republican House and Democratic Senate—even amid a surge of labor organizing or strikes.
Organizers on the letter said that leaves them counting on the Biden administration to take action.
“Ohioans shouldn’t have to risk their health in extreme heat to provide for their families,” Sen. Brown said in a statement. “OSHA must create national standards and protections to keep workers safe on the job, as the risks of heat stress increase.”
Sen. Sanders had a similar sentiment.
“These heat waves are dangerous, they are life-threatening, and—with the devastating effects of climate change—they are only getting worse,” he said in a statement. “I urge the Administration to move quickly to create this national heat standard to protect workers on the job.”
Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions including heat stroke, dehydration and exhaustion. A May report from the nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen found up to 2,000 workers a year die in the United States due to heat exposure.
At the federal level, there are currently a few specific guidelines employers must follow for extreme heat. A Washington Post report also noted that enforcement is spotty—and often reserved for extreme cases of death or injury.
Casar said part of his urgency around the issue comes from a recently signed bill in Texas that will rollback municipal laws in Dallas and Austin, requiring rest breaks for construction workers. With action by Congress likely out of the question, he said he’s counting on the administration to issue executive action.
OSHA can unilaterally enact some safety regulations around labor. Although Casar noted that he’s hoping the Biden administration will act quickly on the issue, any rule handed down needs to be one “the Supreme Court won’t undo.”
Casar on Friday said the list of signatories came together within a matter of days. The congressman added that he’s been focusing on inviting members of the Democratic Caucus for the time being, but said “if any Republican members want to sign on, that would be great” and “very welcome.”