AuthorJaffe, Sarah

Summer is upon us, and with it come climate catastrophes. Heat indexes have broken records, reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit in South Texas. Wildfires in Canada have turned the skies over New York City orange with smoke and ash. Melting snowpack in California has threatened more floods like those that inundated communities in the winter and spring. Disaster is the new normal.

It has become commonplace to say that the future is here--just unevenly distributed--as is the destruction. When the heat skyrockets, some people have air-conditioned homes and offices to retreat to, while others head outdoors to pick fruit, deliver packages, and maintain the electricity that powers that air-conditioning. Those who disproportionately suffer are the workers of color and immigrants, who come to the United States seeking safety and decent work and are repaid with brutal conditions on the front lines of a global crisis.

In Texas, two of those workers died in the extreme heat the very week I am writing these words: Eugene Gates Jr., a sixty-six-year-old mail carrier in the Lakewood area of Dallas, collapsed on his route on June 20; and Cory Foster, a thirty-five-year-old utility lineman, fell ill after a day of work in Marshall, where workers were attempting to restore electricity damaged by storms. He was found dead in his hotel room after reportedly traveling with other workers from West Virginia to assist with the repairs.

Despite these tragedies, Texas lawmakers have decided it's a good time to override labor laws passed in some localities that guarantee minimum protections, such as water breaks and shade, for workers who labor outdoors in the extreme heat. There are no national heat standards for workers, and Texas state lawmakers are free to preempt local laws, leaving workers--particularly those who might be vulnerable due to their precariousimmigration status--stuck between risking their health at work and running out of money to keep their own air-conditioning on, if they should be lucky enough to have it.

According to NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, at least 384 workers have died from heat exposure in the last decade, but the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration keeps such poor records on heat fatalities that it is impossible to know the precise number. And things will only get worse.

Meanwhile, the floods have leftfarms--and farmworkers--underwater, both literally and economically. With work halted due to the rising...

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