Isser: The Heat Wave Shows Climate Change is a Workers’ Rights Issue

Labor News, Industry News

Reprinted from Common Dreams by Mindy Isser on July 4, 2021.

The end of June saw temperatures soar all around the United States, with historic heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest and excessive heat advisories, watches, and warnings elsewhere. The heat is not just uncomfortable, it’s deadly, buckling roads and melting bridges, with temperatures climbing over 120 degrees in Death Valley, California, and British Columbia. The same is also going on across the world as temperatures start to creep up and people are suffering in the heat, for example, in Australia residents are having to call in electrician bentleigh services to install or fix their air conditioners so they can survive through the heat, and that is happening here too. People are not well-equipped to get through this type of weather, even in places where the heat can be normally high.

While the 100 million computer workers in this country are more likely to be able to work safely indoors, other urgent and necessary work must continue outdoors, no matter the severity of the weather. The entirety of the working class is (or will be) affected by climate change, but it’s farmworkers, letter carriers, construction workers, sanitation workers, and other outdoor workers who are unable to escape to air conditioning and are on the front lines of the environmental crisis. This clarifies the fight against climate change as one not just for environmentalists: Rising temperatures are a workplace safety issue. Relatedly, there is a growing awareness among climate activists that workers’ rights and the future of the climate are inextricably linked. Continuing to connect these two existential issues is our best shot at a livable world in which we can all work safely and with dignity.

Between 1992 and 2017, at least 815 workers in the US were killed and more than 70,000 were injured from heat stress injuries. It’s likely that the true number of workers hurt or killed due to extreme heat is much higher than reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many workers who labor outside - particularly agricultural workers and construction workers - are undocumented or otherwise vulnerable and precarious, and may not know to report illnesses to OSHA. And of course, their employers are likely to misclassify a heat-related death. As temperatures continue to rise year after year, we can guess that the number of heat stress injuries and deaths will rise too. …

Common Dreams 7/4

About Jeffrey Burman 861 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at