Miami-Dade County commissioners postpone heat standard vote
A woman works in a farm as it rains with high humidity during a heat wave in Homestead, Florida on July 15, 2023. Tens of millions of Americans were facing dangerously high temperatures July 14, 2023 as a powerful heat wave stretched from California to Texas, with its peak expected this weekend. A heat dome has been baking the southwestern states all week, posing serious health risks to the elderly, construction workers, delivery workers and the homeless. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Miami-Dade County commissioners buckled under lobbyist pressure on Nov. 7 during what was supposed to be the final vote on a county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers. The bill, which received overwhelming support at the Sep. 11 meeting when it was heard in the County Commission Community Health Committee, has been a part of WeCount!’s ¡Que Calor! campaign to champion protections for outdoor workers in the farming and construction industries. 

After lobbyist pressure, commissioners even watered down the bill, making it enforceable on fewer days out of the year and under harsher weather conditions. But without a majority of the commissioners’ support, Commissioner Marleine Bastiene requested to defer the bill for final vote until March when hopefully she can sway her colleagues.

“Our Miami-Dade Commission delayed a historic vote that would have guaranteed basic human rights for outdoor workers, like access to clean water and the right to a 10 minute rest break to drink that water under shade,” said Oscar Londoño, the co-executive director of WeCount! “It’s shameful that industry associations and their lobbyists keep using their money and political influence to block these common-sense protections.”

Less than a week later, representative Tiffany Esposito filed House Bill 433 (HB433), designed to preempt cities and counties across Florida from enacting workplace heat standards. 

“Let’s be clear: HB433 is an extreme anti-worker and anti-local government bill that will do absolutely nothing to address the growing problem of extreme heat in Florida,” said Londoño in a written statement. “After the hottest summer ever recorded in our lifetimes, it is shameful and morally reprehensible to see representative Tiffany Esposito file legislation to make it illegal for cities and counties to take action to protect their workers from extreme heat.”

HB433 would render a local heat standard prohibited and void, while requiring the Department of Commerce to adopt rules relating to workplace heat exposure requirements if OSHA has not done so by a certain date. The law would also prohibit local governments from mandating or imposing requirements or seeking information from persons relating to certain requirements.

“HB433 does not create any new state rights or protections, and it will prohibit cities and counties from doing the bare minimum to protect its workers from extreme heat, including education, first aid, and water breaks,” Londoño said. “Every year, temperatures will continue to rise in Florida, and HB433 will guarantee that more workers in our state get sick or die on the job. Representative Esposito and the industry lobbyists who support this bill are extremists on the wrong side of history. We’re calling on every elected official in our Florida Legislature to stand with workers and reject this reckless legislation.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, average annual heat-related deaths have risen by 95% from 2010 to 2022. Originally, the ¡Que Calor! Heat Standard included a heat exposure safety program for workers and their supervisors about the risks of heat exposure and best practices for minimizing heat-related illness. Additionally, the standard stated that on days with a heat index of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a right to 10 minutes of paid rest and a water break every two hours to cool down under shade and avoid heat stroke. Now, the standard has been raised to 95 degrees.

Commissioners during the meeting questioned who would be responsible for paying the fines if the heat standard is not followed since a construction company might hire contractors who hire subcontractors who then hire individual workers for the job. Commissioners said a study would need to be done to gauge the financial impact the standard would have on industries.

Londoño hopes HB433 will be rejected and the community will continue to support Miami’s local heat standard, which would provide life-saving standards for outdoor workers.

“In the coming months, we will continue to organize to win the first municipal heat standard in the country,” Londoño said. “We know we’re on the right side of history, and we hope our County Commissioners will join us and pass this legislation in March.”

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...