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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

Outdoor Workers At Risk

Cover image for podcast episode

Farmworkers at the Yasukochi Family Farms in Fallbrook pick fruits and vegetables. May 27, 2021.

MIKE DAMRON

The warming climate means intense heat will begin to limit when and how long people can work outside. Meanwhile, after a lengthy and at times contentious public hearing, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to declare San Diego County a "champion of reproductive freedom." Plus, handling mental health issues in the workplace.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday September 15th.
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Climate Change and working outside

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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California voters have rejected the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, by a margin of two to one. The Associated Press called the race less than an hour after the polls had closed. Newsom spoke to reporters in Sacramento minutes later.

We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body.”

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In just about two weeks the state’s vaccination mandate for health care workers goes into effect.
Unlike other requirements, there’s no testing opt-out option. Already health systems are getting hundreds of requests for religious exemptions, but legal analyst Dan Eaton says there’s a gray area in determining what actually qualifies as a religious exemption--

employers certainly can have employees fill out a form explaining the basis of the religious exemption that’s really designed to see really the basis of the religious exemption is really tied to religion or whether it’s tied to a philosophical resistance.
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San Diego county public health officials reported 593 new coronavirus infections and 5 additional deaths on tuesday. According to the county’s latest numbers, daily hospitalizations of covid-19 are more than 47 times higher among the unvaccinated than compared to those who are fully vaccinated.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

A recent study of the planet’s warming climate predicts working outside will become riskier as communities endure more extreme heat days more often. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says that has implications for the nation’s economy.

Josh Middleton scans a project blueprint in the shadow of a trolley platform at University Towne Center.
“We have to run a pipe from here to here. 33-dash-one. Okay…..
Middleton runs Siege Electric. The firm is a sub-contractor on the mid coast trolley extension, one of the county’s largest public works projects. His workers Visall Chann and Brandon Shortreed are up on a cherry picker under a track platform.
They are drilling holes into the underside of the trolley bridge, installing electrical lines that connect to an electrical box just across the street.
“I don’t see it on this column here.”
Only select columns under trolley stations will be lit, so passengers can find the platforms at night. Middleton says this work is fortunately in the shade. But that’s not the case for every job. In fact the sun and heat can be brutal without special gear.
“They make certain visors. Your sunglasses. Different types of cooling packs.”
Gear sometimes isn’t enough as hot spells get more intense, happen more often and last longer. Middleton says the key is finding ways to cope.
“It’s really based on the circumstances of the job environment. We would increase water intake and we would probably allow more time for break periods.”
Union rules require extra attention for people working in hot conditions. Middleton makes sure his employees have plenty of shade and at least two gallons of water per worker, but climate scientists warn that making simple adjustments may not be enough soon. A recent report – Too Hot to Work -- from the Union of Concerned Scientists finds outdoor workers face higher risks as the number of extreme heat days goes up and the intensity of heat spells increases.
“Between now and the middle of the century outdoor workers are going to increasingly lose work time because it’s too hot to work. And in many cases it’s going to mean that they lose out on potential earnings as well.”
The Union of Concerned Scientist’s climate researcher Kristina Dahl says those lost earnings could total more than 55 billion dollars a year by the middle of the century. And communities of color will suffer more.
“People who identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, or Latino make up about 32 percent of the population in the US. But they make up about 40 percent of outdoor workers and is some different occupations those numbers are even higher.”
The analysis concludes that more than seven million workers could lose up to ten percent of their pay because extreme heat conditions keep them from doing their job. Employers can provide extra protection and more breaks, but the Concerned Scientist’s Rachel Licker says avoiding work in the middle of the day doesn’t always help.
“Shifting work schedules to cooler parts of the day can in and of itself have implications that are negative to outdoor workers. Not everyone wants to work nigh-time shifts. It can have implications for your ability to see your family, our mental health, etcetera…”
Licker says the federal government can take action to keep workers from suffering in the heat, as it protects their pocketbooks. She says all those lost wages would have negative effects on local, regional and national economies. But Licker says slowing climate change remains the best strategy for avoiding extreme heat.
“We can save tens of billions of dollars in outdoor worker earnings if we take action now. And those solutions to climate change, we have in hand. These are measures like investing in more renewable energy resources. We can get off fossil fuels. Electrifying more of our energy systems”
A recent United Nation’s climate report found moderating climate is a good strategy, but climate change is already here and companies and workers will have to find ways to cope with the extra heat. Erik Anderson KPBS News

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Just in time for the peak of wildfire season, San Diego county has a new tool to help combat the blazes. KPBS’ Melissa Mae was on site for a demonstration.

MM: San Diego County’s first “heli-hydrant” is now accessible to the region’s fleet of fire-fighting helicopters to help combat wildfires.This new 5,000-gallon water tank can be continuously refilled and remotely controlled by a helicopter pilot… just the way fire trucks hook up to hydrants on the street.
MM: North County Fire Protection District Chief Keith McReynolds says there are a lot of devastating wildfires in this region. His district partnered with the Rainbow Municipal Water Department and CAL FIRE San Diego to build the heli-hydrant
KM “To have a dedicated water source like this, a water resource is incredibly valuable and we certainly will be using it, hopefully not to soon, but I’m sure it will eventually see some use.”
MM: This partnership is known as the Rapid Aerial Water Supply system… It's designed to proactively combat wildfires and protect life and property. Melissa Mae KPBS News.

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A contentious San Diego county board of supervisors public hearing resulted in a vote declaring the county a champion for reproductive freedom. The overwhelming majority of people who asked to speak at the meeting were against the declaration. Kpbs’ alexandra rangel has more.

VM: “Access to safe and legal abortion is social justice, its racial justice and its economic justice.”
AR: The motion passed in a 3 -1 vote in favor of declaring the County of San Diego a champion for reproductive freedom.
County Supervisor Nora Vargas is leading the efforts in the fight to respect a woman's choice when it comes to their reproductive health.
Vargas says the county will remain a safe haven for women.
VM: “We must promote and protect women's rights to access healthcare services and we must fund efforts to provide free and accessible health screening to all women in our county.”
AR: Alexandra Rangel KPBS News.

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GARMENT WORKERS IN CALIFORNIA ARE A STEP CLOSER TO HAVING GUARANTEED HOURLY WAGES, THANKS TO A BILL THAT IS WAITING TO BE SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR. KCRW'S BENJAMIN GOTTLIEB HAS THE STORY.

Coming up.... Many workers in the US are facing burnout, as a result of the pandemic and overall stressful working conditions. But are there any protections for workers facing mental health challenges in the workplace? We’ll have more on that next, just after the break.

There’s an interesting dispute taking place between San Diego county and the county’s former chief medical officer, Dr. Nick Yphantides. Known to many as Dr. Nick, he was a prominent county spokesman during the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Here’s Yphantides….

“But I must be transparent and admit that eventually the stress became overwhelming for me. I couldn’t run from it. I began suffering from depression and overwhelming anxiety. I lost my ability to sleep. And so in that situation, I did what I believe any of us would tell our loved ones to do. To take a brief leave of absence.”

After he took a medical leave of absence, Yphantides claims he was not allowed to resume his position with the county. Now, in a lawsuit filed against the county, the doctor’s attorney claims Yphantides was “thrown away” because of his mental health disability. The county has not commented on the pending litigation.

We are often told that there’s a stigma surrounding mental health problems that prevents many people from seeking treatment. But – can that affect employment? what protections are in place for workers? And what can workplaces do to help those experiencing mental health challenges?

Catherine Mattice is the Founder and CEO of Civility Partners --an HR consulting firm focusing on helping organizations create respectful and positive workplace cultures. She spoke with KPBS midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh. Here’s that interview.

And that was Catherine Mattice, Founder and CEO of Civility Partners, speaking with KPBS midday Edition host Maureen Kavanaugh

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.