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San Antonio adopts ordinance mandating heat and water breaks for city contractors

Construction worker pauses for a drink of bottled water.
cgering/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Construction worker pauses for a drink of bottled water.

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In a vote of 9 to 2, the San Antonio City Council approved a new ordinance Thursday requiring contractors on city job sites to provide construction workers with shade, water, and breaks.

Under the new ordinance, any time the heat index reaches 95 degrees or hotter, city contractors will have to provide their outdoor workers with 15 minute breaks for every four hours worked. It also requires a heat-relief station with shade and water.

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo called it a bare minimum for the city to protect its outdoor workers.

"Water breaks and the right to drink water on the job is not radical and it's not an overreach. It's to ensure our outdoor workers can return home to their families,” Castillo said.

The ordinance also requires city contractors to provide a heat-safety plan when bidding for a job.

The two no votes included District 10 Councilman Marc Whyte, who argued companies were already providing such worker protections, and District 8 Councilman Manny Palaez, who said more enforcement would be needed to better protect workers.

The original idea was for the ordinance to apply to any company doing business in the city — as Austin and Dallas have done — but this ordinance was crafted more narrowly as a legal fight looms with the state of Texas over the so-called “Death Star” bill that limits a city's ability to pass this kind of safety ordinance.

“In a city that has just experienced over 60 sweltering heat days this month, this is a clear message to lawmakers at the state and federal level that San Antonio wants to protect its workers,” Castillo said.

The “Death Star” bill was ruled unconstitutional on Wednesday, and the state has appealed. Meanwhile, more sweeping water break ordinances enacted in Austin and Dallas remain in effect.

The law, slated to take effect Friday, would have undone local laws. Houston, San Antonio and El Paso argued it eliminated cities' abilities to govern themselves. The state is expected to appeal.
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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules