New Texas law strikes down rights for immigrant workers
A construction worker drinks a Gatorade during a heat wave in Houston, Texas, July 14, 2023. Climate scientists are sounding alarm about the impact of human-caused global warming, and warning 2023 is on track to be the warmest since records began. Global surface temperatures have increased by about 2F (1.1C) since 1880, making extreme heat more frequent. Extreme heat is the deadliest weather hazard in the United States, according to official data, with the elderly, the very young, people with mental illness and chronic diseases at highest risk. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)

Workers and allies protested July 14 outside Houston’s City Hall, denouncing what they are calling “la ley que mata,” or “the law that kills.” HB 2127, which eliminates critical labor and housing protections for workers, takes effect September 1. 

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127—also known by critics as the “Death Star” bill—last month, leading workers to call on President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent more workers’ deaths. The bill nullifies municipal laws and regulations, specifically taking aim at progressive ordinances that improve worker protections, including regulations related to overtime pay, rest breaks, and water breaks—changes that will directly impact Texas’ immigrant workers. More broadly, the law also has the potential to bar cities from creating regulations related to agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property. In short, as reported by the Texas Tribune, “the Legislature decided there was too much Democracy afoot in Texas, so it did something about it.”

Houston and San Antonio have sued the state to block the law, arguing that HB 2127 violates the state’s constitutions and prohibits cities from self-governing. According to a survey by the University of Texas/Texas Real Politics Project, nearly half of those surveyed said the state government mostly ignores the needs of Texas residents. Nearly 60% opposed exactly what HB 2127 does, which is “reduce the power of cities and counties to pass laws or regulations in areas where state and local governments have traditionally shared authority.” 

During a press conference on July 14, dozens of neon yellow construction hats lined the steps of Houston’s City Hall, representing the workers who experienced heat-related injuries on the job. On July 1, construction worker Felipe Pascual collapsed due to extreme heat at a job site in Fort Bend County and later died from hyperthermia. As of late June, at least 13 people have died from heat-related illness in Texas alone. d

“In the midst of this heat crisis in Texas, leading many workers to perish in these devastating climate conditions, Gov. Abbott commits a barbaric act in signing HB 2127, a law which will only lead to more worker deaths by eliminating a 10 minute break for workers to hydrate and continue doing their jobs,” Teodoro Aguiluz said during a press conference. Aguiluz is the executive director of the Central American Resource Center Houston (CRECEN), a member organization of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).

Houston workers, CRECEN organizers, and local officials—including Dexter McCoy, county commissioner in Fort Bend County—were among those gathered at City Hall to demand an immediate intervention to the law, as well as standards that would establish guidelines for rest, shade, water, and training on heat-related risks and precautions.  

“The loss of Pascual’s life is not just a personal tragedy, it is a stark reminder of our state’s failure to prioritize the well being and safety of those who work tirelessly to build our communities,” said McCoy. “These communities wouldn’t exist but for folks like Felipe Pascual. It’s not acceptable for our leaders to neglect the fundamental rights of our workforce.”

The advocacy groups also delivered a letter signed by over a dozen organizations to White House advisors, requesting immediate intervention by the Biden Administration—including action from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that enforces labor standards.

The letter makes note of the dangers undocumented workers and their families already face because of immigration raids and racial profiling.

“There is already a severe crisis of workers’ rights and free speech,” said the letter. “That is why we ask that President Biden … make a personal visit to Houston, to encourage workers to come forward to denounce abusive employers and to assure undocumented workers that they will receive federal government protections if they do come forward.”

HB 2127 will disproportionately harm migrant workers because it targets the industries they often work in, including construction and other outdoor jobs notorious for harsh working conditions and few worker protections. The law will also curtail any local efforts cities have made in the last decade to safeguard labor protections. 

“Workers deserve respect because we are human beings,” said Isabel Ramirez, a Houston construction worker who spoke on behalf of NDLON. “To you, Mr. President, we invite you to join us in fighting against this law, because as workers, our work will continue in the hot sun, working in the fields, cleaning floors, in all types of workplaces, in all types of construction sites!”

Alexandra Martinez is the Senior News Reporter at Prism. She is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, Florida, with an interest in immigration, the economy, gender justice, and the environment. Her work...