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Worker Heat Protections are at the forefront of Labor Commissioner Race

Source: News & Observer

Some of the year’s hottest weather occurred throughout the summer in North Carolina, with temperatures reaching high 90s and heat indexes pushing over 110. The extreme heat is a risk for workers across the state, especially as North Carolina has little to no regulations to protect workers. 

According to WUNC, North Carolina has no statewide standards — only a few guidelines on labor and health department webpages

WUNC reports that the state’s workplace safety law doesn’t mention heat or temperature, despite North Carolina having over 1.7 million North Carolina workers who work in industries affected by extreme heat.

“What we’re seeing now is that the climate is getting hotter, heat waves are getting longer, stronger and more frequent. And that puts workers at even greater risk than even just 10 or 20 years ago,” Juanita Constible, a climate and health advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told WUNC.

With the labor commissioner seat up for grabs in 2024, protections for workers from extreme heat will be a main point of discussion for candidates. 

The death of a migrant farmworker’s last month in Nash County has already raised questions about whether the state is doing enough to protect workers from hot weather conditions. 

José Alberto Gonzalez Mendoza from Mexico died on Nash County Republican state Sen. Lisa Barnes’ family farm less than two weeks after coming to North Carolina on an H-2A guest-worker visa, according to CNN.

According to the National Weather Service, the heat index was in the high 90s when Gonzalez Mendoza fell ill. An autopsy to determine the cause of death is pending, however an EMS report said he was affected by excessive heat and described his condition as “HOT.”

Gónzalez Mendoza’s story mirrors hundreds of other farmworkers who work under excessive heat exposure, without the protections and dignity they deserve.

Braxton Winston, a Democrat who has announced his candidacy, has spoken out for the protection of workers, stating that the state should not wait on the federal government. 

“I think all workers deserve protection from extreme heat, and this would be a priority of my administration to go forward because North Carolina should be a leader when it comes to worker safety (and) worker health, because those are integral for the continuation of the growth of our various industries that we depend on in our different economic sectors,” Winston told The News & Observer. 

Winston has stated that the state should enact its own heat standards without waiting for OSHA. Winston, who has used his seat on the Charlotte City council to speak out in favor of workers’ rights, wants to create a rule making process for heat safety standards that incorporates input from workers, owners of farms with H-2A workers and other industries.

Read more at The News & Observer.


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