Advocates Denounce Industry Lawsuit to Stop Oregon Heat and Smoke Protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 23, 2022

Contacts:
Kate Suisman, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, kate@nwjp.org, (503) 765-7105
Jamie Pang, Oregon Environmental Council, JamieP@OECOnline.org, (971) 353-7963
Patti Verduzco, PCUN, pattiverduzco@pcun.org, (503) 754-5547

Advocates Denounce Industry Lawsuit to Stop Oregon Heat and Smoke Protections; Heat Rule Already in Effect with Smoke Rule to Follow on July 1  

Following the news that business industry groups – Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, Associated Oregon Loggers Inc. and the Oregon Forest Industries Council – have filed legal action in U.S. District Court in Medford to stop new Oregon OSHA rules from protecting frontline workers from extreme heat and wildfire smoke, a coalition of climate and environmental justice, labor, and public health advocates have the following responses:

“We’re frustrated to see corporate lobbyists and lawyers attempt to delay the recently adopted heat and smoke standards from going into effect, right as summer heats up. For years, workers have been advocating for common-sense protections such as access to cool water, shaded rest areas, and additional breaks in high heat temperatures. Recent wildfires further demonstrate the need for state guidance on how to navigate the workplace in smoky conditions to limit a worker’s exposure to unhealthy air quality. These rules are life-saving,” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director and President of PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union. “Our team will continue to inform workers about how they can protect themselves in the event of high heat or wildfire smoke.”

“It’s on-brand for the industries that play an outsized role in creating climate change, to fight Oregon’s efforts to address the harms to working people from its effects, like deadly heat waves and wildfires. They would rather sue the state than provide common-sense protections for frontline workers, like shaded break areas and drinking water, outlined in the OSHA rules. We’ll continue to fight for the essential workers impacted by these environmental hazards,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Director at Oregon Environmental Council. 

“Oregon’s unions will not stand for any rollback to critical heat and smoke protections for workers,” said Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President.  “As Oregonians well know, our state now experiences high heat and wildfire smoke annually and the importance of protecting workers from these conditions cannot be overstated.  We will continue to relentlessly advocate for these protections because we know the lives of essential workers are on the line if we don’t. The stakes are too high for us to waver.” 

“These are life and death issues; the protections are based in science and clearly written to prevent more worker deaths and serious illnesses. Working in Oregon is more dangerous than ever- summers are hotter and fires burn in places they never used to. Governor Brown and Oregon OSHA took steps to address this crisis, and now industry is trying to halt these long-overdue measures,” said Kate Suisman, attorney at the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project. “Protections are already in place, and we’ve been training workers on the important protections in the new rules for the past month. Employers have had time to adjust to these requirements with the temporary rules in place since last summer, and industry groups had ample time to comment, participate, and complain throughout the year-long rulemaking process. Workers need the certainty of these protections now.”    

“OSHA’s process to craft wildfire smoke and heat rules was rigorous and inclusive. OSHA heard arguments for no rules and weaker rules from industry. Frontline workers shared stories of ER visits due to smoke-related shortness of breath and serious illness from working in dangerous heat. Physicians and occupational health experts argued for stronger rules based on sound science. OSHA put emergency rules into place last summer after two workers died due to Oregon’s extreme heat.” said Leslie Kochan with Climate Jobs.  “OSHA’s final rules are not as protective as many hoped for, but will be critical to preventing worker illness and death. It’s disheartening to see industry attempts to block these rules after having many opportunities to share their views and influence the final outcome.”

“Oregon OSHA took an important stand for workers by crafting heat and smoke protections based on science and best practices. It is deeply disturbing that even as we move into another dangerously hot and dry summer season, Oregon employers would choose not to commit to protecting their employees but to challenge these protections and endanger workers. Workers and their allies have been urging policymakers at all levels to craft heat-stress protections for over a generation, and for Oregon’s business leaders to throw up their hands and claim it is too hard for them to implement is immoral and chilling in the face of climate change-induced dangers,” said Senior Policy Analyst Anastasia Christman of the National Employment Law Project. 

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