View the WWRC Press Conference, July 18, 2023.
Employers, State must worker protections for a changing climate.
ONTARIO, Calif. – As San Bernardino braces for 10 consecutive days over 100 degrees following an already hot July, workers and health experts warned that without regular access to rest, water and shade workers are put in unnecessary danger during excessive heat.
“Workers are feeling the impact of excessive heat on their bodies and in their neighborhoods,” said Deogracia Cornelio, education director at the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. “We know the names of workers who have succumbed to heat throughout the years. We have spoken out and held those responsible accountable. It is these stories that motivate us and it is why we have consistently advocated for additional legislation, including the development of an indoor heat standard in California.”
People who labor in physical jobs, both inside and outside, are most susceptible to heat illness, which can include dehydration, dizziness, fainting and even death, and as the climate warms these dangers are more acute.
“Our internal body temperature rises and outstrips our capacity to shed heat. This especially happens when we don’t have time to rest or cool down. This can happen more quickly when it’s humid,” said Dr. Robert Harrison, occupational medicine specialist and Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. “It can take less than an hour to go from mild to severe heat illness. Heat illness can be more severe in people with medical problems such as diabetes or heart conditions. It is also dangerous if there isn’t anywhere to cool down after work.”
Warehouse workers in the Inland Empire, the national warehousing and logistics hub just east of Los Angeles, are on the frontlines of the nexus of a warming planet and the impact higher temperatures have on workers. Workers at the Amazon air hub in San Bernardino last year took their own thermometers to work and documented extremely high temperatures at the warehouse and grave inconsistencies with Amazon’s own temperature monitors. Last week, workers at that same facility launched a campaign to ensure working conditions are safe and this weekend at least one person was taken to the hospital following heat exposure.
“Just this weekend one of our coworkers was rushed to the hospital because of heat exposure. Not only were we all worried about his health, but it’s hard to keep working knowing you could be next,” said Mel Batz, an Amazon warehouse worker. “By speaking out and advocating for ourselves, we have won more access to ice water, working fans and breaks from the heat, but it’s not consistent and it’s because we have stood together to demand these protections. What is happening at other warehouses in the Inland Empire where the employer is not being held accountable?”
In 2016 the California Legislature passed SB1167 which called on the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to draft new standards by January 2019. Nearly, four and a half years later the Cal/OSHA Standard Board held its first hearing on the proposal.
Several warehouse workers traveled to a hearing in May to advocate for these critical indoor standards, but California has yet to enact them.
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About the WWRC
The Warehouse Worker Resource Center is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), organization founded in 2011 dedicated to improving working conditions in the warehouse industry in Southern California. We focus on education, advocacy and action to change poor working conditions in the largest warehousing hub in the country.