Texas Gov. Abbott recently signed the controversial “Death Star Bill” into law. This legislation has stirred significant debate, particularly in Austin.
As the local branch of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 520 plays a crucial role in the community, and it is essential to understand how this new law affects the city and its residents.
Changes to Local Government Structure
Under the “Death Star Bill,” formerly known as Senate Bill 8, significant changes to local government structure have occurred, impacting Austin’s ability to make independent decisions. The law limits the power of city councils and places restrictions on their ability to regulate specific industries, including construction and energy. As a result, Austin’s local officials are trying to work on implementing policies that align with the city’s unique needs and priorities.
Implications for Energy and Electrical Workers
The “Death Star Bill” has significant implications for the energy sector and, consequently, the members of Local 520. The legislation restricts local governments from imposing stricter energy codes than those set by the state. This could hinder Austin’s efforts to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives, which have been critical focuses for the city in recent years.
Furthermore, the law limits the ability of local municipalities to enter into certain agreements, such as Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs). This limitation could impact the ability of Local 520 to negotiate favorable terms for their members and protect their rights.
Elimination of Mandated Water Breaks
One particularly concerning aspect of the “Death Star Bill” is the elimination of mandated water breaks for building trades workers, which include Local 520 Brothers and Sisters.
Previously, local regulations required employers to provide mandatory water breaks every four hours for workers engaged in physically demanding tasks, such as outdoor construction work in the sweltering Texas heat. These breaks were essential for preventing heat-related illnesses and ensuring the well-being of workers.
In a recent interview, Ryan Pollock, political director for Local 520, stated, “Texas leads the nation in construction worker fatalities, mainly due to overexposure from heat.”
Without proper rest and hydration, the risk of heat exhaustion, heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses increases significantly for Texas construction workers. Local 520 has always prioritized the well-being of its members, and this new legislation undermines the safeguards that were in place to protect them.
The Role of Local 520 in Safeguarding Workers
In the face of the elimination of mandated water breaks, Local 520 reaffirms its commitment to the safety and welfare of its members. The union will actively work to educate employers about the importance of providing regular breaks and access to clean drinking water, even in the absence of legal requirements.
By collaborating with allied organizations, raising awareness about the risks associated with excessive heat exposure, and engaging in dialogues with lawmakers, the union will strive to reinstate protective measures for Local 520 Brothers and Sisters and all building trades workers.
The Death Star Bill goes into effect Sept. 1 2023, and Brother Pollock said that Local 520, “is ready to take the fight to the State House.”