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Workers Putting Heat on Employers After Working in Hot Temps


Monday, August 7, 2017   

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hot summer temperatures are weighing heavily on people who make a living outdoors throughout the state.

It's prompting the union representing city employees in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Winston-Salem, Greenville, Chapel Hill and others to demand workplace policy changes to protect workers from the heat.

The U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommend employers give hourly breaks when temperatures reach 80 degrees and breaks every half hour when it's 90 or above.

Dante Strobino, an organizer for UE 150, says that's not happening in many cities.

"When talking to the workers, they only get a couple breaks for an entire eight-hour shift,” he states. “Their supervisors are still pressuring them to collect the yard waste, to collect the recycling and they're pressuring workers to get the job done. They're offering no incentive to take breaks."

UE 150 is currently investigating the death of a Charlotte solid waste worker who died after he returned home from a 15-hour shift.

In response, Charlotte says the death in question is unrelated to employment with the city and its employees' health is "paramount."

The city met with union members on Friday to discuss workplace safety measures for workers.

Woody Woodward, a machinist for the light rail system in Charlotte, says he's had two minor heat-related health issues in recent weeks. He says while he knows cities can't make it cooler outside, they can manage the workload.

"They don't want to charge people more taxes, but for the safety of their employees they have to have a large enough staff on hand to work,” Woodward stresses. “In other words, you can't have one guy on a truck running that truck all day at 15 hours a day. If they hire two, they can get done in seven or eight hours, so they need to hire more staff to adequately meet the needs of their constituents."

Woodward and his union want cities to mandate regular breaks, versus making them recommended and ensure employees feel like they can take them without facing repercussions.

"They're under the gun to get a lot of work done, and so they tend to push,” he states. “They are interested in the health of the people, I do believe that, but it's just that there's no specific policy stated and in writing."

The North Carolina Department of Labor reports no heat-related deaths so far this calendar year at workplaces that fall within its jurisdictional authority to inspect.

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