Workers shouldn’t have to risk heat stroke

Global temperatures are rising — and workers in one of America’s hottest cities are finally getting some relief.

During the summer of 2023, millions of people in Phoenix suffered a record-breaking 31 straight days of temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. In response, the city broke new ground with an ordinance requiring employers with city contracts to provide rest, water and shade for workers exposed to extreme heat.


The municipal ordinance, passed in March, will extend protections to approximately 10,000 workers, including many (but not all) who work at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

“This will change my life,” says Filiberto Lares, an airport worker at Sky Chefs and a member of UNITE HERE Local 11. “When the temperatures reach extremes, the asphalt on the tarmac is even hotter.”

Worker-centered organizing in Phoenix is driven by members of UNITE HERE, the Service Employees International Union and other labor and community-based groups. With technical support from our organization, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, this collaborative effort shows what’s possible when workers come together.

But those standing up for safer, more secure jobs across the country encounter a harsh reality: Workplace conditions are deteriorating.

Each year at the end of April, we observe Workers’ Memorial Week in honor of those who have become sick or injured or lost their lives on the job. This year, we are deeply saddened to report that preventable fatalities in U.S. workplaces are increasing. So are preventable illnesses and injuries.

In a changing climate, workers face greater risks when laboring in extreme heat. On top of this, there is a troubling surge in child labor violations.

Sadly, companies and the politicians they employ are doing everything possible to resist the changes workers need. Since 2021, 12 states have loosened restrictions on child labor.

Legislators might reconsider their stance if they engaged in conversation with parents like those of Michael Shuls. He was a high school athlete who was crushed to death at age 16 inside a stalled conveyor at Florence Hardwoods, a Wisconsin lumber mill. The company employed other underage workers and had been previously cited for failure to properly guard and lock out machinery, the very hazards that killed Michael.

Meanwhile, in Texas and Florida, legislators out of touch with the needs of their communities have prevented local governments from implementing heat safety laws, like the ordinance recently passed in Phoenix. Before casting further votes to undermine local democracy, legislators should listen to the family of Roendy Granillo.

Roendy died from heat stroke while working construction during a Texas heat wave in 2015. “His organs were cooked from the inside,” said his father, Gustavo Garcia. The Garcias lobbied successfully for a heat safety ordinance in Dallas to prevent further tragedies. But a “Death Star” bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott has overruled the city and left workers vulnerable during the coming hot summer.

Organizing a union is a proven and effective route to improved working conditions. But major employers like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, REI and others are ignoring repeated votes by workers in favor of collective bargaining.

This cannot continue — and it will not. Our growing movement to win safer workplaces faces unique challenges, including the increasing power of large corporations and the push by employers to make jobs ever more precarious, especially for immigrants, Black and Latino workers, gig staffers and low-income laborers.

History has shown that working people have faced and overcome huge challenges in the past, and we will again.

Workers such as Filiberto Lares, and the families of Michael Shuls and Reondy Granillo, deserve nothing less.