Irma Gomez has been working on gardens in California’s Central Valley for nearly a decade, and has never lived as hot a year as she is now, to the point where one of her co-workers fainted and died while picking vegetables.
“It’s worrying, it could happen to any of us,” Gomez said, on the day of the interview, in the middle of autumn (Northern Hemisphere), he was wearing a mask to protect himself from the smoke of a wildfire, with a thick saffron haze over the sky.
Rising temperatures threaten workers in the United States, endangering their health and performance. According to two recent studies, this phenomenon has major economic consequences.
The country is already losing $ 100 billion a year to heat-induced declining productivity, according to a report by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation, a regression center based in Washington DC.
Studies predict that without global warming control, losses could reach $ 200 billion by 2030 and $ 500 billion by 2050.
“When you need rest to drink soft drinks and look for shade, you produce less,” says Kathy Packman McLeod, director of the Rehabilitation Center.
Climate change is also affecting workers’ wages.
“In many fields, such as agriculture, employees are paid by the hour or by the hour,” explains Christina Doll, co-author of a study by the Union of Concern Scientists, a voluntary organization that specializes in topics such as global warming. “If workers retire and are not compensated, the situation will have an impact on their economic well-being.”
Gomez, 37, feels this way: “We had less heat this year.”
Unable to work eight-hour shifts in the summer, Gomes earned $ 1,700 a month, 700 less than the same period in 2020.
“Thousands of Wounds”
During the hot summer months in some parts of the country, breaks often occur.
As the situation worsens, the Union of Scientists Concerned has warned.
Every year three million people in the United States face at least a week of work with temperatures above 37.7 C, reflecting the risk of heat.
If the current weather conditions continue, 18.4 million people will be working in this extreme situation for more than a week, meaning more rest to protect their health.
“Everyone, regardless of job, will feel the effects of a drop in productivity,” Doll says. These people “harvest our food nut, deliver our packages, manage our buildings, highways and bridges.”
Working with high heat affects movement. This can lead to fatigue, confusion, dizziness and in more severe cases, an increase in body temperature can be dangerous.
“In California alone, we believe high temperatures could cause thousands of workplace injuries a year,” warns Jisung Park, an economist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Protect the worker
Both studies agree that rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a priority to control temperature rise.
But, before achieving this goal, both protect the attention of workers. “It gives them three things: water, shade and rest,” Doll said.
“The heat kills more Americans than any other weather event,” Packman McLeod recalled.
Experts believe a federal law is needed, which, in addition to security measures, pays for housing.
“The point is that workers do not have to choose between health and pay,” Doll explains.
In September, the White House announced it was considering legislation to protect workers, but said the process would take time.
Only the states of California, Minnesota and Washington have regulations on this. On the hottest days, companies are forced to provide water and shade for workers. At extreme temperatures, stop work completely.
In rural areas, the alternative way to avoid this problem is for workers to harvest at night or at dawn. But it also presents other challenges.
Gomez, for example, misses work days when he does not find someone to take care of his underage daughter at night.
Now she’s relieved to be out of the summer heat, but fear of the future: “You ‘re worried, we do not know what next year will be like.”
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