Our leaders have vowed to protect workers from extreme heat in Miami-Dade County. That makes sense: Miami went through an incredibly hot summer this year. That may become the norm. Two farmworkers have died in South Florida fields this year. One of them, just 29 years old, was found lying dead in a Homestead field where he had been picking a tropical fruit called longan. It happened on July 6, the hottest day recorded across the world since 1979.
But after changes to a heat-protection bill set for a vote by the Miami-Dade Commission next month, the much-touted new measure to give workers rest and water breaks would probably actually help on five days a year, on average, the Miami Herald reported.
Why have a law if it does so little?
One of government’s main reasons for existing is to protect people. But this proposal has become so watered down — by lobbyists, apparently — that it won’t do enough of that.
The latest version of the bill changed the wording ever so slightly, but it’s a critical change. The original bill would have required that companies give outdoor workers water and breaks on days with a 90-degree heat index. The heat index is a combination of air temperature and humidity. The new wording, though, says regulations would go into effect when the air temperature — not the heat index — reaches 95 degrees.
As the Herald story notes, that is a “much rarer occurrence in Miami.” In other words, it pretty much guts the bill.
We’re not the only ones saying that. Eighty-eight doctors, nurses, scientists and medical students sent an open letter to the County Commission urging a return to the first standard and saying that the revised wording would “fundamentally alter how often employers would be required to provide water, rest, and shade to workers and would be inconsistent with the National Weather Service’s guidelines.”
Some farmers and builders have come out against the tougher standards. They say they already have safety measures for their workers, and the regulations will just impose more unneeded red tape and government interference. Farming is tough enough, they say. No doubt, that is true.
But not every farm or construction company is a good operator. This law is needed by the others. Times are changing — it’s getting hotter and hotter, and government regulations need to change, too.
The question of how to define a hot day is central to this discussion. As the Herald story points out, the heat index hit 90 degrees or above in Miami 165 days a year on average from 1981 to 2023. Over that same time frame, the air temperature was 95 degrees or higher just 4.7 days a year on average.
Adding to sense of urgency: During this year’s beastly hot summer, the air temperature hit or exceeded 95 degrees a whopping 25 times.
And then there’s common-sense side of this argument. Anyone who lives here knows the toll it takes on your body when high humidity is combined with high temperatures. It can feel, as one outdoor worker told the Herald, “like you’re suffocating.”
The National Weather Service bases its heat warnings on the heat index. Miami-Dade needs to consider what the farms and businesses affected need to stay viable — that’s important — but, in the end, protecting workers has to be the most important consideration in our sweltering summers.
Click here to send the letter.