Casar leads thirst strike to protest Texas law banning mandatory water outages

WASHINGTON – Roendy Granillo was installing floorboards in a Melissa, Texas, home that didn’t have air conditioning when he started feeling unwell. It was 97 degrees that day, but her boss refused to let him take a break and hydrate, her family says.

He kept working until he collapsed. Hours later, he died of heat stroke. He was 25 years old.

“His organs were cooked from the inside out,” his sister, Jasmine Granillo, said on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, as Rep. Greg Casar, a Democrat from Austin, went on a day-long “thirst strike” to protest a new Texas law that blocks efforts by cities to force employers to provide water breaks.

It was a relatively balmy 90-degree Tuesday in the nation’s capital. Forecasts from Dallas show triple-digit highs for the next 12 days, and the heat wave searing Texas is pushing temperatures to 110 degrees in parts of the state.

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After Granillo’s death in 2015, the Dallas City Council passed an ordinance requiring employers to give construction workers 10-minute water breaks every four hours. Austin adopted a similar ordinance in 2010.

But last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a law — House Bill 2127, known as the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act and dubbed the “Death Star” bill by opponents — that preempts those rules effective Sept. 1.

There is no statewide law requiring water shutdowns for workers, nor a federal law or regulation.

At least three Texas workers have died of heat-related illnesses this summer: a lineman in East Texas, a mailman in Dallas and a construction worker in Houston.

Union leaders, workers, and other elected officials joined Casar’s thirst strike to protest Abbott’s actions. The freshman Democrat also called on President Joe Biden to implement a federal water shutoff and heat protection standard through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

About 30 supporters, including Texas workers, stood behind Casar as he announced the start of his strike. Some carried signs that read “Work should not be a death sentence.”

On Monday, more than 100 members of Congress wrote to Biden urging him to set an OSHA standard on workplace heat.

A federal regulation would overturn the Texas ban.

“During this heat wave, the governor just signed into law a law that takes away the right to water breaks in the workplace. It is an outrageous attack on Texans and threatens all workers,” Casar said, sweat glistening on his face in the scorching sun. “The Biden administration must step in, ignore Abbott, and ensure heat protections for all Americans in all industries.”

Medical professionals say water breaks are necessary for health and safety while working in extreme heat.

“We know it is essential that workers have access to water, breaks and other protective measures that can help protect them from the dangerous effects of heat-related illnesses, including death,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, registered nurse and president of National Nurses United.

This summer’s heat wave has been blamed for at least 13 deaths in Texas alone through the end of June.

“Rest and water breaks are not a luxury. These are the fundamental rights of workers. This is especially true as our climate crisis makes already hot days more extreme,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of the Center for People’s Democracy, one of the groups participating in Casar’s protest.

“What Governor Abbott is doing is inhumane, cruel and will kill people,” he said.

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