DALLAS — The years have passed, but it has not eased the pain of Graciela and Gustavo Garcia. Their son, Roendy Granillo, died in 2015 due to a heatstroke.
“His death hurt us a lot so we decided to not stay quiet,” Graciela Garcia said in Spanish.
They share their story in hopes their son’s death will create changes in laws to protect employees. In 2016, they lobbied for a rest break ordinance in Dallas. City Council approved it and now employers are required to permit employees to take a break.
Just six years prior, Austin City Council approved an ordinance requiring rest breaks for construction workers. But state legislators did not approve a rest break, and it is not a law.
“This bill is simple. It would say give people a rest break, one every four hours for 15 minutes, paid rest break,” said Garcia. “Plain and simple, it’s the only human thing to do.”
The congressional representative explained that while Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees workplace conditions, they are only guidelines.
“Guidelines aren’t law, the employer can do it or not do it,” Garcia said. “Until there are some teeth in there with the law, they’re just not going to do it.”
Gustavo agrees and said he spoke to employers who have indicated that unless there are severe penalties, there isn’t much incentive to ensure employees have rest breaks.
According to OSHA about three out of four fatalities due to heat occur in the first week of work. They recommend employees ease into it to build tolerance to the heat. One of the recommendations for working safely is rest breaks to help recover from exposure to the heat.
Gustavo recalls learning about his son’s death. The family had plans to go out to eat after he got off work, and his mother had encouraged him to call out of work.
“He told her, ‘we have to finish a job,’” said Gustavo in Spanish.
The 25-year-old was working at a home in Melissa, Texas, in July 2015, when temperatures reached 97 degrees. According to the family, Roendy attempted to take a break but was denied and told to continue working. He later collapsed outside the home. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital where his body temperature read 110 degrees.
“His organs were cooked from the inside,” Gustavo recalls.
Roendy never regained consciousness.
In Texas, we have had 53 people die of heat exhaustion in the last decade, and in the country, we have had 384 because of the heat, Garcia said. She is hopeful of getting legislators to look at the bill.
“This is something that is humane. We need to get it done,” said Garcia.
Those who have voiced concerns about the bill have indicated the impact it could have on productivity, but Garcia emphasizes a healthy worker, a well-rested worker, is a better worker, which leads to better productivity and better quality control.