A GOP bill relating to the regulation by a municipality or county of certain employment benefits and policies aimed at lowering the covid-19 infection would ultimately put workers at risk of dehydration.
Currently given a 10-minute water break every four hours, SB 14 aims to eliminate hydrating breaks as part of an effort to grant employers more freedoms in terms of COVID-19 precautions.
“It has been noted that certain local governments in Texas have begun passing ordinances regulating private employment practices, which results in a patchwork of different burdensome regulations that creates hurdles for employers of all sizes and confusion for their employees. It has been suggested that these policies are better left to the employer and, if necessary, the state and federal governments, for the sake of greater consistency and ease of compliance,” the bill reads.
In Dallas and Austin, where temperatures often reach very high levels during the day, employers are required to provide the 10-minute breaks, which is also considered insufficient.
According to E&E News, construction workers are particularly at risk of succumbing to heat. The occupation constitutes just 6% of the U.S. workforce, but construction workers account for 36% of all heat-related deaths. In Texas, construction workers accounted for 26% of all heat-related fatalities in the field between 2017 and 2019.
“I am feeling myself that it is getting hotter, so imagine what these laws will do,” said Fidel Guzman, a plumber in Austin who spends much of his time at work digging irrigation ditches in 100 F heat “This law is inhumane. People will faint, people can die.”
Given that temperatures keep rising from year to year, this new bill stripping break rights can have serious health implications on construction workers already relying on a few minutes to hydrate.
The bill, which has been a priority for Governor Greg Abbot and placed on the agenda for the special session, has already passed the Senate and now awaits a hearing in the House.
“We were really on our own. It is scary to think about all of the workers who will die if this bill passes, and it’s only getting hotter,” said construction worker Juan Pedro who now helps organize protests of the bill, “It is better to fight than to die.”