As heat records are broken, ¡Qué Calor! fights for outdoor workers’ rights

Three years ago, agricultural worker Jose Delgado Soto went to a bank to cash his work check at the end of the week. As he waited in line, his head began to spin and his body felt heavy. He started to sink toward the ground when a couple nearby grabbed him and sat him down on a chair.

An ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital where he spent six days recovering from years of laboring in the South Florida heat that had taken a toll on his body. Before the heat stroke, Delgado ignored his body’s reactions.

“I started to feel dizziness, cramps in my hands and feet, tiredness, the pain in my back and I asked myself, ‘Why is this happening?’” Delgado said in an interview in Spanish.

Most of those watching the  Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the Government Center were in support of a bill requiring employers to protect outdoor workers from the heat. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava testified in favor of the measure. (Photo by Sophia Bolivar/Caplin News)

In Miami-Dade, there are over 100,000 outdoor workers in agriculture, construction and landscaping. A worker-led campaign called “¡Qué Calor!” which translates to “It’s hot!” in English, is advocating for employers to give their outdoor workers mandatory water, shade, and rest.

The proposed legislation in Miami-Dade County would require outdoor worker employers to have an approved mandatory heat exposure safety program. The bill would establish penalties for violations if an employer does not provide access to drinking water, 10 minutes of shaded rest every two hours, and multilingual notice of employee rights. The bill, co-sponsored by Commissioners Marleine Bastien and Kionne McGhee, would guarantee these rights on days when the heat index hits 90 degrees. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, the Board of County Commissioners voted to defer consideration of the bill until March next year after commissioners were unable to reach an agreement.

“I personally cannot support it in its current form,” said District 10 Commissioner Anthony Rodriguez.

Despite the failure to win passage of the legislation, there is still a chance that it can be approved next year if changes are made. 

“I believe there is a path forward,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

¡Qué Calor! began two years ago under WeCount!, a local organization that is advocating for the rights of working immigrant families.

Compared with the general population, the National Institutes of Health estimates that outdoor workers are 35 times more likely to die from heat exposure and climate change is not helping these numbers get better. 

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a rule that employers must ensure a safe and healthy work environment, extreme heat is not mentioned, according to an article published in June by WFSU

Florida’s outdoor workers do not have any federal, state or local laws in place to protect them from the heat Bastein said at Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting.  

“In all types of outdoor jobs there are no adequate bathrooms, rest spots, or accessible water. In some cases, they give water in an unsanitary thermos with fungus,” the leader of the ¡Qué Calor! Campaign, Pedro Marcos Raymundo, said in Spanish.

Raymundo said that when he has met with employers to discuss how to improve the conditions for workers, the industry leaders have worried about what it would cost. None of them expressed concern over the health of their workers, Raymundo added.

“Bosses, along with their companies, are not in favor of our campaign because we are demanding that each outdoor worker has the right to a 10-minute paid break in the shade every two hours,” Raymundo said.

“We have to work harder and keep fighting, we aren’t stopping here,” Raymundo said after the outcome of the Nov.7 commissioners meeting.” We have to look for more allies.”

Pedro Raymundo speaking at the ¡Qué Calor! campaign meeting to a crowd of over 100 members on Sunday Oct. 22. (Photo by Sophia Bolivar/Caplin News)

“It is overreaching,” said Costa Farms Chief of People Officer, Arianna Cabrera de Oña, who opposes the bill. “Its anti-business sentiment sends a message to the county and the rest of the country that Miami doesn’t want businesses to survive, no less thrive.”  

Cabrera de Ona questioned the need for “the establishment of a county new-level agency, in essence, a ‘heat police department,’ solely funded by fines imposed on construction and agriculture businesses.”

Climate change activist Delaney Reynolds said heat conditions in south Florida will only be getting more extreme. Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of Sink or Swim project, an advocacy organization that centers around environmental issues, including climate change. 

“We’ve had temperature records broken pretty much every year,” said Reynolds, who is not affiliated with ¡Qué Calor! “This summer was most certainly the hottest summer that we’ve ever seen. Records being broken everywhere, triple digits all across the country even in some places where they’ve never seen triple digits before.”

Reynolds faulted Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers for denying or downplaying climate change and not enacting measures at the state level to protect workers from the health dangers of extreme heat on the job.

“Even spending a couple of hours outside as it gets hotter is harsh on your body,” Reynolds said. “You sweat and you need to replace that sweat with water and if you don’t consistently do that, then you could eventually have heat stroke. It’s very dangerous for people, especially those who are working outside all day long, who don’t have shade, who don’t have access to water and especially those who are older.”

Erick Sanchez, the director of organizers for WeCount!, serving food for members of the organization during the ¡Qué Calor! campaign meeting on Sunday Oct. 22. (Photo by Sophia Bolivar/Caplin News)

After recovering from his stroke, 75-year-old Delgado felt pressure to get back on the job as soon as possible and put food on the table. 

A year later, he recognized the same symptoms coming on while working in a sweet potato field. A woman working alongside him in the field told him to go sit in his car to get shade from the sun and drink water.

The next thing he knew, an ambulance was taking him to the hospital. He had suffered a second heat stroke.

When Delgado was younger, he did not have the time to study in order to support his parents. Delgado moved from the state of Guerrera, Mexico to the United States in 1988. 

Delgado continues to work in agriculture because he has been doing so for most of his life. As he stays loyal to his occupation through the years, he has been vocal about his story.  

With the result of the deferral Delgado still held on to his hope for the future of agriculture and construction workers.

“They invent one thing, we have to invent another,” said Delgado about the commissioners against the bill. “They feel the pressure from us and start their ambition against us.”

Sophia Bolivar is a senior at FIU majoring in digital journalism and focusing her studies on criminal justice. Sharing a love for both writing and photography has led her to pursue a career in journalism.