Workers call for better conditions to labor in the oppressive heat

Tom George Image
Friday, July 28, 2023
Workers calling for better conditions to deal with heat
From construction sites to trucks to farms, it's getting harder to beat the heat. Some say safety is on the line.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- From construction sites to trucks to farms, it's getting harder to beat the heat. Rick Armstrong with the Teamsters Local 391 union said some of his drivers have even gotten sick.

"Heat exhaustion and just working long hours and it's just physically demanding on them to work so many long hours and such heat. So it's a stressful job. And such physical conditions in this heat, it's not good for their health," he said,

The union is preparing to vote on a new contract that was just approved for UPS drivers. One of the main sticking points of the negotiation was requiring air conditioning in the cabin of the UPS trucks.

But union leaders hope more can be done.

"I think there absolute needs to be more guidelines, state and federal level, because it is getting hotter," Armstrong said.

RELATED: Heat advisory in effect as 98 high feels well above 100 degrees: First Alert Day

One group representing farmers is launching a social-media campaign urging the North Carolina Department of Labor to implement heat safety standards across the state.

Their main ideas:

  • Access to shade and free cool drinking water
  • Mandatory, paid cool-down periods
  • Comprehensive heat stress prevention program
  • Annual training for employees

"These aren't new things. These are things that have been recommended by health and safety experts, scientists, union leaders, and workers for decades," said Hasti Sadri with the Farmworker Advocacy Network.

One farm worker in Wilson who spoke with ABC11 said though he feels he's always been given enough water and breaks in the North Carolina heat at his jobs, at other sites, people simply power through.

"Sometimes people just decide to put up with the heat and just take the risk because they don't want to lose out on the job or their money for the week," said the man, identified only as Eladio.

That suffering in silence may be reflected in the data from the NC Department of Labor. Officially, since April, there were zero recorded complaints about heat from agricultural workers. Overall, there have been 166 complaints since April of this year. Most of those were about a lack of adequate air conditioning on the job.