Op-Ed: State Interference Threatens Local Power, Safety, and Support

by | Apr 17, 2023 | Opinion, Public Health

Texas summers are filled with long days of sweltering heat, with the heat indexes in cities with high levels of new construction – like Austin, Houston, and Dallas – reaching 115 degrees during peak working hours. Construction workers in Texas are regularly exposed to extreme environmental heat on the job, placing them at risk of accidents, heat-related illness, and injury.

Water breaks save lives. Public health data demonstrates that when workers have a right to a water break, they are more likely to get a life-saving break. At least 53 workers have died in Texas since 2010 due to heat-related illness. These deaths are entirely preventable. 

Is it too much to ask of legislators to ensure that workers are allowed rest periods and water breaks?

Day in and day out, through scorching hot summers and icy cold winters, Texas construction workers are risking their lives to provide for their families and improve our communities. It’s critical that local governments have the ability to do what state legislators will not – enact protections that ensure these essential workers come home safe at the end of every work day. And in fact, local officials in Austin and Dallas have done just that. Both cities have had water break requirements in place for construction workers since 2010 and 2015, respectively.

In Texas, there are no current state or federal laws that require employers to provide construction workers with rest breaks. In place of securing these protections, anti-worker lawmakers are pushing bills that would further limit the ordinances cities have enacted. This is why it is critical for local governments to be able to do what’s right for workers in their own cities and pass and uphold basic protections like the right to a water break.

In this 88th legislative session, anti-worker lawmakers are focused on rolling back city ordinances that protect working people and are looking to make it harder for elected city officials to do their jobs. Rather than implementing proactive and protective measures for these workers, and providing resources and funding for communities, lawmakers are pushing forth egregious efforts like Rep. Burrow’s House Bill 2127.

This bill exploits workers for their labor, threatening to end critical safety protections like rest-break ordinances, and negatively impacts community autonomy by stripping city officials of their ability to regulate environmental, labor, and health and safety concerns in their communities.

Local elected officials know what their constituents need and should be able to make sure individuals are safe and protected each time they step outside of their homes for any activity, whether it be work, school, or play. Stripping local governments of their ability to protect their community is a serious misuse of power and an overstep of authority by Republican members of the Texas legislature.

Just last month, the Texas House Committee on State Affairs heard public testimony on the bill, and remarks indicate that this bill is largely unpopular amongst the working people it will directly impact. Local government officials are elected by the voters that reside in that community. They’re closer to the problems and closer to the solutions. Their job is to make decisions and pass laws that reflect the unique views, values, and needs of the people who live there.

HB 2127 is a gross overstep into our communities and nothing more than a partisan power grab by state legislators.

State interference would have deadly consequences for all Texans. Texas relies heavily on construction workers and laborers, and as the industry continues to scale, lawmakers should be focused on protecting these workers, by ensuring safety on job sites, water breaks, and rest breaks. Instead we have these efforts to roll back the progress made to pass community-driven common-sense ordinances like the water break ordinances established in Austin and Dallas.

HB 2127 is a direct attack on local governance, with a one-size-fits-all approach to policy making. Texas cities are diverse and each faces unique challenges. Texans deserve the right to elect local leaders from their own communities to implement their values and priorities and to hold them accountable if they don’t. These democratically-elected local leaders are best equipped to respond to the needs in their communities and implement appropriate solutions.

However, overreaching and harmful state interference prevents local leaders from being able to do their job and undermines the will of voters across the state. Texas must allow and empower local elected officials to protect the health and safety of their own communities.

Ultimately, it is the people of Texas who make this state as powerful as it is, and the people do not support this legislation. Power-hungry Republicans must be reminded that our construction workers are not expendable. Our communities are not expendable. Texans deserve more from our elected state officials.

Adam Bazaldua is a Dallas City Council Member for District 7

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