Unbearable: How outdoor workers in South Florida are handling record-breaking extreme heat

Summer arrived early in South Florida. Heat indexes in May skyrocketed to heights never seen before and that phenomenon has continued in June. 

Last month, the heat index in Miami peaked at 112 degrees – six above the previous record for May. Twice the temperature shot up to 96 degrees. This month, the mercury has already topped 90 on multiple occasions. 

With no clear guidelines for protections to combat extreme heat at the national, state, or local levels, all outdoor workers are feeling the brunt of it. From Jupiter to Doral to Wynwood, landscapers, construction workers and others manage it in different ways.

Albert Bustillo is a 21-year-old landscaper from Doral who works in the harsh sun for nine hours, five days a week. “The conditions,” he says, “are unbearable.”

He has been putting up with them for two years.

“This is a physical job,” Bustillo said. “Your body doesn’t get many breaks, but in Miami, the biggest issue is always the heat. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of year it is, it’s always hot.” 

Bustillo said that even though his boss allows him to take breaks if needed, not every laborer has that same right. 

“I have friends in other jobs, also outside, who are only allowed a certain number of water breaks a day,” said Bustillo. 

Many associate the debilitating conditions brought to workers by increased extreme heat with landscapers, construction and agricultural workers. 

But they are not alone. Adialis Garcia is a 23-year-old marketing and promotions assistant for the Jupiter Hammerheads: the minor league affiliate of the Miami Marlins. 

She says her job is to “smile and be positive” to entertain the crowd, which has become more difficult lately. Garcia says the team has played several day games in the sun and the Jupiter complex is not shaded, or protected from the sun, so the audience, players and team employees experience particularly high temperatures.  

“There are times that since my job is so fast-paced with few breaks in between I don’t have time to stop and get water or to sit down in the shade for even a minute,” said Garcia. 

Garcia added that there is no break on days the Hammerheads play back-to-back games. 

“It becomes very draining,” said Garcia. “Some days, the only thing on my mind is [the number of games] before Sunday when I’ll finally get a break.” 

This past April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 433, which prevents local communities from passing their own heat protections. That bill came in response to Miami-Dade’s proposed guidelines for water, shade and breaks. 

Companies, however, are still able to voluntarily apply their own. 

Diego Savelli is a 25-year-old supervisor for an impact window company. Despite his thinking that there is still room for improvement, Savelli believes that his boss is doing an effective job of keeping them safe under the sun. 

“Our boss definitely does a great job with helping us under these conditions,” said Savelli. “Especially when the temperature gets to 90 plus, we get three to four breaks because we can get dehydrated very quickly.”

Savelli hopes that as the heat continues to scorch over them throughout the summer, he and his employees are allowed to take more constant breaks.

Esteban Wood is the policy director of WeCount: a non-profit advocacy organization that represents outdoor immigrant workers in South Florida. 

Wood believes that individual measures provided by employers are not enough to protect workers during this unprecedented weather. He added that both local government and companies should strive for “uniform and common sense standards” as the way to limit harming laborers 

“If these workers were suffering heat-related illnesses just with one, two, three, four days on the job in extreme heat, what is going to happen when they are exposed to extreme heat for four months,” said Wood. “We don’t know the answer to that question because we’ve never lived in these times before.”

Anthony Cruz is a freshmen majoring in Digital Media and Communications. He hopes to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.

Alejandra Fonseca is currently a student at Florida's International University. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in digital journalism. Her interest includes films and fashion. Fonseca enjoys writing think pieces about important movies and shows.

Anthony Aguirre is a Florida International University student currently in his junior year and pursuing a Bachelor's degree in digital journalism. He is interested in sports and working out.

David Hermida is a senior at Florida International University majoring in International Relations. Hermida grew up in Miami and attended Doral Academy for high school.