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Florida bans local heat protections for outdoor workers in extreme heat

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Florida's governor has signed legislation that prohibits cities and counties from creating heat protections for outdoor workers. This move follows Florida's long and brutally hot summer last year, a year scientists say was significantly hotter than any other year on record. Jessica Meszaros with member station WUSF in Tampa has this report.

JESSICA MESZAROS, BYLINE: Thirty-four-year-old Lucia Lopez works on a tomato farm south of Tampa. She knows what it's like to be in extreme heat.

LUCIA LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MESZAROS: Lopez says every day is not the same. There are days that feel more harmful than others. Like, some days, you can get a headache, and you can feel dehydrated. She says she's sad that Florida won't have local protections in place for workers like her.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MESZAROS: Lopez says she understands life is not guaranteed, but she'd like to have better access to more immediate medical care, and she'd greatly appreciate any protections the government can offer. Governor Ron DeSantis spoke at a press conference on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: It really wasn't anything that was coming from me. There was a lot of...

MESZAROS: Miami-Dade County was close to passing local heat protections in March. DeSantis acknowledged that the state legislation he signed into law was in response to those local efforts.

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DESANTIS: I don't think it was an issue in any other part of the state. I think they were pursuing something that was going to cause a lot of problems down there.

MESZAROS: Business interests, including billionaires, have been openly against heat protections for workers in Florida, saying they would cripple the agriculture and construction industries. The state's move comes after Texas passed similar legislation last year. Shauna Junco is a clinical pharmacist and board chair of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. She says she's disappointed with the governor's decision. Junco says local protections would prevent unnecessary deaths from heat illness.

SHAUNA JUNCO: Heat illness is called the silent killer amongst the medical community because it's insidious, and it's not recognized as a cause of death.

MESZAROS: There are no federal standards to protect outdoor workers from heat, but some states do have them. California requires employers to provide shade, rest breaks and access to water. Washington and Oregon created worker protections from heat after a deadly heatwave in 2021. But in Florida, where there aren't any protections, Lucia Lopez says her state would benefit from regulations like those in other states.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MESZAROS: Lopez says outdoor workers will be more willing to go to work if they know they can cool down. She says that makes for a better season for workers and for the people who count on food coming from the fields. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Meszaros in Tampa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jessica Meszaros
Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media.