Now, backlash is brewing.
House Bill 2127 passed the state Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott promptly signed it into law on June 14. The bill, which goes into effect in September, strips construction workers in Austin and Dallas of the right to water breaks every four hours and time to rest in the shade while on the job.
The new law comes as Texas endured three straight weeks of high humidity and triple-digit temperatures in June. Such intense and long-lasting heat waves are expected to become more common in a warming world, climate scientists have said.
Backlash to the legislation is mounting. Earlier this week, the city of Houston filed a lawsuit that seeks to block the state law and have it declared “unconstitutional.”
The measure has been nicknamed the “Death Star” bill because it broadly pre-empts legislation at the local government level if it clashes with state law. The bill covers eight areas of government — including labor, business and agriculture — overturning local ordinances that are already in place and preventing local governments from passing new ones if they conflict or deviate from state regulations.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement that the law undercuts the “ability to govern at the level closest to the people.”
“Houston will fight so its residents retain their constitutional rights and have immediate local recourse to government,” Turner said in the statement.
Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of politics and policy at the Texas AFL-CIO, a labor federation of 240,000 union members in the state, said the bill “attacks local democracy,” adding that it will have “a huge impact and many unintended consequences to the way we govern at the local level.”
Beyond the political implications, eliminating guaranteed water breaks could create dangerous working conditions for construction workers during heat waves. Extreme heat events have been associated with upticks in cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases, and heat causes more deaths across the U.S. each year than any other weather event, according to the National Weather Service.
Last month’s heat wave caused at least 13 deaths in Texas, according to health officials. A 46-year-old construction worker in the Houston area also died on June 16 after collapsing while working in the extreme heat, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
“This is an emergency,” Gonzalez said. “Texas is the deadliest state when it comes to construction, where one worker dies every three days in our state.”