Phoenix ordinance “will change my life,” says airport worker exposed to extreme heat

26 Mar 2024

For immediate release
Contact:  Roger Kerson,, 734.645.0535

Phoenix ordinance “will change my life,” says airport worker exposed to extreme heat

A critical first step” after record-breaking temperatures and 340 heat-related deaths 2023; Workers for city contractors will have access to water, rest, shade and safety training

PHOENIX – A new city ordinance is a “critical first step” to protect workers for city of Phoenix contractors from the dangers of extreme heat, say leaders of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).

“People who work outside and in hot indoor environments in Phoenix suffer unacceptably during our deadly summers, with too few protections,” said Katelyn Parady, a Phoenix-based worker health and safety expert with National COSH, who assisted local workers and unions in advocating for new protections from extreme heat. “This ordinance is a critical first step toward getting workers lifesaving protections and holding employers accountable for safety during heat season. It’s also a model for how local governments can leverage their contracts to protect the workers who keep their communities running from climate change dangers.”

Phoenix experienced a record-breaking 31 straight days with temperatures over 110 degrees in 2023, and extreme heat is extremely dangerous. The Maricopa County Health Department reported 340 heat-related deaths in the city in 2023, among 645 fatalities countywide. Three out of four heat-related deaths took place outdoors; the County does not provide data about how many fatalities were work related.

It is well documented, across the United States, that the dangers of extreme heat fall most severely on Black, Brown, and low-income workers. Latinx workers, for example, are three times more likely to die from heat stress than their peers.

The new ordinance was passed unanimously by the Phoenix City Council today after a citywide campaign including members of SEIU, UNITE HERE Local 11, and other labor and community organizations. It will apply to outdoor workers for city contractors -- and their subcontractors -- who provide construction, engineering, airport and other services to the city, including at Sky Harbor Airport.  

“The heat at Sky Harbor Airport is dangerous and all of us who work there know it,” said Cecilia Ortiz, a passenger service agent who filed a heat complaint against airport contractor Prospect last summer. Ortiz is part of a worker-led campaign, supported by SEIU, to win a voice on the job for Phoenix airport service workers. “We’re glad the city of Phoenix is stepping up to require that airlines and their contractors give us basic heat protections outdoors and in the jet bridges. Now we need to keep pushing to make sure cabin cleaners, who work inside planes but often with the A/C off, are also protected. And we are going to hold our employers accountable. They must take this ordinance seriously, so we can stay safe at work.”

Contractors and subcontractors will be required to provide 

  • Easy access to rest, shade and potable water for workers in outdoor environments; 
  • Access to air conditioning in vehicles with enclosed cabs – a major win for airport service workers;
  • Training for outdoor workers on how to recognize and prevent heat injury and illness.

Contractors are also required to create and keep on file a heat safety plan. 

“This heat safety ordinance will change my life and the lives of my coworkers at LSG Sky Chefs. We can spend hours on the tarmac delivering food to the airplanes. In the summers, when the temperatures reach extremes, the asphalt on the tarmac is even hotter,” said Sky Chefs' worker Filiberto Lares, member of UNITE HERE Local 11 in Phoenix. “It has felt as though people forget that many of us work in vehicles. Having air conditioning in work trucks, buses, and delivery vans matters just as much as in a building because those vehicles are our workplaces.”

With climate change likely to bring even hotter summers to Phoenix, advocates say broad protections are needed to cover all workers, not just those who are employed by city contractors and subcontractors.

“It’s good news that our city council is listening to workers who are in grave danger due to climate change,” said Parady. “But your body’s ability to cope with extreme heat does not depend on whether you work for a city contractor, directly for the city or for a private employer. We’re going to keep organizing until all workers have strong protection from heat – because everyone works under the same blazing sun.” 

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit Follow us @NationalCOSH on Facebook, @NationalCOSH on X and @NationalCOSH on Instagram.