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DeSantis nixes local efforts to protect outdoor workers from Florida's brutal weather


Gov. Ron DeSantis has quietly signed into law a measure barring local governments from requiring employers to provide workers with basic protections like shade, accessible water, and breaks from Florida’s scorching heat and humidity.

Since the Legislature adjourned its regular session on March 8, the governor has staged press conferences packed with political supporters to sign bills  cracking down on child predators, retail theft and porch piracy, fentanyl traffickers, plus another new law that channels the state’s share of Seminole gambling proceeds into environmental programs.

And on Friday, he went before the cameras to sign new laws stripping civilian police oversight boards of any power and preventing civilians from coming within 25 feet of a first responder if warned to stay back.

Word of the heat-protection ban came, however, via a press release issued by the governor’s office after 8 p.m. Thursday. It was one of 10 bills he signed that day.

Central Florida Democratic state Senator Victor Torres (photo credit: Florida Senate)

State Sen. Victor Torres of Orange County condemned the move as a “step back” in protecting workers.

“Florida is known as the Sunshine State — and the governor just signed a law to ensure the outdoor workers can’t escape the sun,” Torres said in a written statement.

‘All around us’

“Outdoor workers are all around us — working on construction sites, repairing and paving roads, picking fruit and vegetables on farms, and more. They’re just trying to make a living for their families — and instead of putting protections in place to ensure businesses are prioritizing their workers’ health and well-being from record-setting temperatures, we tied the hands of proactive local governments to do so,” Torres added.

The move is “not only an injustice for the thousands of outdoor workers who are asking for the bare minimum in triple-digit heat, but it’s also an afront to decency and humanity,” said Esteban Wood, policy director for WeCount!, representing immigrant communities, which led opposition to the bill.

“Workers who are simply asking for 10 minutes of a shaded rest break, simply asking for rest breaks on a job — to deny workers that is simply outrageous,” Wood added. “Extreme heat kills.”

“It’s no surprise that Gov. DeSantis signed this cruel and terrible bill late at night; that’s what you do when you’re embarrassed about what you’re signing,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), a labor-oriented organization.


DeSantis did play down the problem during his news conference Friday.

“It wasn’t anything that was coming from me. There was a lot of concern out of one county, Miami-Dade. And I don’t think it was an issue in any other part of the state. I think they were pursuing something that was gonna cause a lot of problems down there, so I think a lot of the members of the Dade delegation created that just to steer clear of those problems,” he said.

Eighty-eight environmental, faith and progressive groups in early April called upon DeSantis to veto the legislation.

The new law, HB 433, which takes effect on July 1, forbids the state or its political subdivisions from requiring any protections not mandated by state or federal law, even for their own contractors. Neither can they weigh bid solicitations in favor of contractors who provide more protections. Or use their contracting power to seek to influence wages or benefits.

A legislative analysis of the bill observes: “Currently, there are no specific federal or state laws that provide heat exposure protections for outdoor workers.”

As the Phoenix has reported, the only county in Florida that had been considering enacting such a heat protection ordinance was Miami-Dade. That effort fizzed under pressure from industry groups and as the Legislature took up the preemption bill.

By contrast, the Phoenix, Arizona, city council voted unanimously on March 26 to require city contractors and subcontractors to provide access to rest, shade, water, and air conditioning for all of their employees who work outdoors.

‘Backwards legislation’

“The governor should be embarrassed. This backwards legislation abandons the many workers in Florida who are at risk from extreme heat, even though Florida is the hottest state in the nation and the plain fact is that temperatures are getting hotter every year,” COSH’s Martinez said.

“Does Ron DeSantis really think it’s appropriate to stop local communities from requiring employers to provide rest, water, and shade to workers who desperately need those protections? Probably not, or he would have signed the bill in broad daylight,” Martinez continued.

“We’re incredibly proud of workers at WeCount! who have led this fight and brought a spotlight to the dangers faced by working people due to climate change. They’re not giving up, and neither are we, because workers need and deserve basic, common-sense protections at every level:  local, state and federal.”

WeCount! had pressed for worker protections in the Legislature for years with no success, Wood said in a telephone interview.

One avenue for progress might be worker-directed social responsibility (WSR) which can include agreements with major employers, including big-box stores and restaurant chains, to voluntarily require suppliers to “essentially follow a code of conduct, and that’s something I think is worth exploring,” Wood said.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has negotiated just such an agreement, called the Fair Food Program, Wood noted.

Florida, Florida Phoenix, Florida Legislature, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Why didn't the Legislature want to give farmworkers extra protection?


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