San Antonio City Council voted 9-2 on Aug. 31 to require water breaks be provided for contractors working on city-funded projects.

The background

The vote concludes a process that began in April 2022 when Council Member Adriana Rocha Garcia and then-Council Member Ana Sandoval proposed creating an ad hoc task force charged with evaluating and recommending heat illness prevention measures to ensure construction worker safety.

The impact

According to the new ordinance, when the local heat index is 95 degrees or above, employers must give employees working outside, or indoors without air conditioning, a 15-minute break every four hours.

The ordinance requires affected contractors to have heat relief stations with shade and drinking water are available at a project site, and display bilingual signs ensuring workers have a right to breaks. Additionally, supervisors and workers must be informed on heat standards and ways to reduce the risk of heat-induced illness.

Local officials said companies must share a heat-illness prevention plan when trying to land a contract with the city.

What they’re saying

Various labor unions and several council members said the ordinance was needed to help protect city-contracted workers who might be at risk of suffering heat exhaustion or a stroke.

The U.S. Department of Labor earlier this summer issued a hazard alert for heat, affirming that workers have heat-related protections under federal law.

District 7 Council Member Marina Alderete Gavito said the new ordinance is not meant to harm businesses that are performing correctly, but rather protect workers who may fall victim to a bad-faith contractor who fails to provide basic safety requirements.

“We are showing that San Antonio values not just the labor, but the laborers themselves. Prioritizing worker safety is not just the right thing to do, it is now a precondition for doing business with the city,” Alderete Gavito said in a statement.

Contractor advocacy groups argued the ordinance was unnecessary because they provide breaks.

District 10’s Marc Whyte and District 8’s Manny Pelaez voted to oppose the ordinance. Whyte said while helping to protect city contractors is admirable, state and federal safety rules already guide contracting companies on providing such things as breaks for workers.

Whyte also questioned whether the new ordinance will be successful because due to difficulty in enforcing such regulations.

“In my view, we solved a problem that does not exist,” Whyte said in a statement. “More and more government regulations are rarely the answer.”