A Dallas USPS Worker Dies in Extreme Heat, Sparking Outcry from Critics on New Law | Dallas Observer

Critics Blast New Law After Dallas Postman Dies Amid Extreme Heat

The recent death of postman Eugene Gates, Jr., has prompted workers' advocates to condemn a new Texas law.
Eugene Gates Jr. died while delivering mail last week.
Eugene Gates Jr. died while delivering mail last week. Photo by Joel Moysuh on Unsplash
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Postal worker Eugene Gates Jr. reportedly collapsed in a resident's front yard while on his route in Dallas’ Lakewood area last Tuesday. The 66-year-old lost consciousness on a day when the heat index soared to roughly 115 degrees, a level the National Weather Service has deemed “dangerous.”

After a resident performed CPR and called 911, Gates was rushed to the hospital, where he ultimately died. His official cause of death hasn’t been made public, although some outlets have reported that heat may have been to blame.

Now, advocacy groups and labor unions are sounding the alarm over legislation they say could put outdoor workers’ lives at risk.

House Bill 2127 by state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican, forbids local authorities from passing and enforcing ordinances stricter than state law in a wide swath of areas, including labor, finance and agriculture. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill days before Gates’ death.

While proponents argue the measure will smooth out inconsistencies in Texas’ patchwork of business-related regulations, critics fear it could endanger the health and safety of the state’s outdoor workers, among other concerns.

HB 2127, which takes effect on Sept. 1, will nullify mandated 10-minute water breaks every four hours for construction workers in Dallas and Austin.

Adrian Shelley, the Texas director of the advocacy organization Public Citizen, told the Observer via email that 279 workers died last year in the Texas heat.

“Meanwhile Texas lawmakers have doubled down, endangering lives to keep Texas ‘open for business,’” Shelley said. “We've seen enough death. In a world of climate change and hotter summers, the only alternative is preventing heat-related deaths.”
Public Citizen is calling on OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to update federal workplace standards to better protect workers from heat stress. The group notes that the country’s deadliest weather hazard is heat, writing that it claims more lives than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

Reached via email for comment, the Dallas AFL-CIO union told the Observer that “HEAT CAN KILL TEXAS WORKERS!” Financial Secretary Treasurer Lou Luckhardt and President Gene Lantz said that the threat workers face in terms of high heat and humidity is alarming to those involved in the Dallas labor movement.

They also extended their sympathies to Gates’ family and encouraged employers and workers alike “to deal with this problem cautiously.

“Further, labor is outraged that Governor Abbott and the Republicans in the Texas Legislature are uncaring about worker safety,” Luckhardt and Lantz continued. “They just made it Texas law that cities cannot mandate water breaks for workers. Reverend Jesse Jackson was quoted in [Houston] Style Magazine: ‘In reality, this legislation essentially treats workers as property — without human rights, even the right to life — to be used as their employers deem fit.’”

The offices of Abbott and Burrows did not return the Observer’s requests for comment.

"In a world of climate change and hotter summers, the only alternative is preventing heat-related deaths." – Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen Texas

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Texas AFL-CIO blasted HB 2127 in light of the recent death of another worker.

Earlier this month, a utility lineman from West Virginia reportedly died of “heat-related causes” while trying to restore power in East Texas following some storms. Ana Gonzalez, Texas AFL-CIO’s deputy director of policy and politics, believes that scrapping safety measures like mandated water breaks will invariably lead to more deaths.

"Construction is a deadly industry,” she said, according The Texas Tribune. “Whatever the minimum protection is, it can save a life. We are talking about a human right.”
Experts report that the brutal heat enveloping Texas is tied to climate change. The science communication organization Climate Central recently released data indicating that human-caused climate change made the state's “near-record heat forecast” at least five times more likely.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency predicts that climate change will result in more droughts and ever-climbing temps in Texas. Hot weather will threaten the health of both crops and cattle. By 2076, Texas will likely see up to four times as many 100-plus-degree days.

Some people — including the elderly, children, the poor and the sick — are particularly at risk during extreme heat. Hot days can worsen some people’s nervous and cardiovascular symptoms and result in dehydration and heat stroke.

Gates’ death has caught the attention of at least one leader in Congress.

In a statement late last week, U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrat, said she was “devastated” by the news of her constituent’s passing.

“Summer has only just begun, temperatures are only getting hotter, and tragedies like this can happen in any state, and any district,” Crockett said in part. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to address the hazards faced by our country's postal workers before another life is lost."

In 2017, the number of USPS delivery trucks without air conditioning hovered at around 70%, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Weather Channel forecasts that Dallas will see highs of around 103 on Tuesday and 105 on Wednesday.
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