News & Commentary

July 13, 2021

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

In a last ditch effort to block the passage of a Republican-spearheaded voter suppression law, a group of Texas House Democrats fled the state yesterday and decamped for Washington, D.C. The exodus denies the GOP a quorum it needed to operate the legislature and pass their desired voting restrictions. Democrats intend to stay outside the state until a special legislative session—called by Governor Greg Abbott for the purpose of passing the voting restrictions—ends on August 6. When they arrived in D.C., the delegation of Texas Democrats called on their federal counterparts to pass voter-protection laws such as the For The People Act, which would preempt the GOP’s efforts to pass restrictive voting laws in Texas and other states. “Our democracy is on the line,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer told NBC News.The extraordinary move is something of a work stoppage; by leaving the state, the group of lawmakers is making it impossible for the state legislature to function. 

Republicans have certainly been willing to adopt that framing, portraying their Democratic colleagues as lazy government employees shirking their duty to serve the public. Governor Abbott said that the “Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve.” And Abbott has also threatened to use an age-old tactic for strikebreaking: using armed law enforcement to physically force the lawmakers back to work. He said the Democrats “will be corralled and cabined in the Capitol” until his desired voter-suppression law is passed. It is not clear how the GOP plans to force the departed Democractic delegation back to Austin; the state police have no jurisdiction in D.C. and federal law enforcement agencies have said they will not get involved. Chris Turner, one of the Democrats who fled the state, fought back against the characterization that the Democrats are lazy. “We are doing our job. We were elected to represent our constituents and fight for our constituents’ interests. We aren’t going to sit in Austin in the house chamber and watch the Republican majority steamroll the voting rights of our constituents.”

After a devastating heat wave in which at least one farm worker—an immigrant from Guatemala—died amid the 100º temperatures, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) has adopted emergency rules to protect workers from the heat. The temporary rule will stay in effect for 180 days while the Oregon OSHA works on a permanent rule. The rule requires that employers, when the heat index is equal or above 80º fahrenheit, provide employees with access to shade and drinking water that is free for employees and below 77º fahrenheit. Additionally, when the heat index reaches 90 degrees or above, Employers must monitor employees “for alertness and signs and symptoms of heat illness,” and provide workers with a ten minute cool-down period in the shade for every two hours of work. 

Eight employees and the General Manager of a Burger King in Nebraska resigned on Monday, in another recent example of food service industry workers showing a refusal to work in abhorrent conditions. The restaurant was chronically understaffed, forcing Rachael Flores, the GM who quit, to work upwards of 50 to 60 hours per week. Burger King forced employees to work without air conditioning in the summer heat; the kitchen apparently registered a temperature of over 90 degrees one day. The heat forced Flores to go to the hospital with dehydration, after which management called her a “baby.” The workers who quit got the last laugh, with an instant-classic post on the sign outside the restaurant, in all caps: “We all quit. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

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