Outdoor worker safety under attack in Florida: Who is to blame for the abuse of workers?

Farmworkers in Homestead, Florida. Image source: Lynne Sladky / AP Photo via Politico.

Heat-related deaths in the U.S. have skyrocketed due to global climate change. Outdoor workers, as well as elderly people and young children, face the highest risk of overheating. In 2022, heat-related deaths had increased by 95% since 2010, and temperatures are only getting hotter, with 2023 ranking as the hottest year on record. While those with access to functional air-conditioning can temporarily escape the sweltering temperatures, outdoor workers are forced to exert themselves in deadly conditions.

Amidst rising temperatures, which contributed to several Florida cities experiencing 100℉ plus days in July of 2023, the Florida state legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis passed HB433. This bill will prevent cities and counties from issuing heat-safety standards that would mandate access to cool drinking water and regular breaks for workers. The bill will endanger the two million outdoor workers in Florida, as well as countless undocumented workers. As if denying workers relief from heat was not bad enough, the bill was also expanded to prohibit the local passage of “living wage” requirements.

While the content of HB433 is insidious in itself, it was drafted by Florida’s Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the same far-right think tank, the Foundation for Florida Government Accountability, that wrote House Bill 49, which aims to reduce child-labor protections. These laws allow bosses to exploit workers, including children, to the maximum, while absolving themselves of accountability for unhealthy work environments. Democrats will point their fingers at Republicans for passing aggressive anti-worker bills, yet they uphold the same system that necessitates the exploitation of the majority by the minority of capitalists – the owners of corporations and financial institutions – and bail out the capitalists when their economy fails, leaving workers to suffer the direst consequences.

Under capitalism, workers are not only forced to sell their labor for meager wages but are forced to work in potentially deadly conditions. The passage of anti-worker bills shows that the political system prioritizes the demands for profit over the wellbeing of workers. As the climate crisis rages on, it is clear that we cannot rely on the capitalist system and those who govern it to protect us; this is why we need to build a new system, one that is operated collectively by workers ourselves to meet the needs of all people and other inhabitants of the planet.