Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Work Breaks, the Law, and Sabbath Imperatives

It was Monday, and May-warm-lovely out, so it was a day for chores, both in the yard and in the house.

I don't mind them, to be honest, as they're just part of caring for one's little patch of land, but they do take energy.  I trimmed back bushes, cut back ivy, and cleared away the clippings.  I edged and mowed the front yard.  I emptied the kitchen compost bin into the compost pile, which I had turned with a pitchfork prior to burying that mess of semi-decomposed waste deep in the warm steaming pile.

It was the labor of an entire morning, and as I was my own boss, I took it at my own pace.

Being deep into the creaks and groans of middle age, that meant taking a pause every half hour or so.  I'd pop in the house for a sip of water, or to sit for a moment.  It'd be a minute or two or five, and then I'd bop back outside to get back into it.

That morning, I worked for about three hours.  I took at least three breaks of varying lengths.  When done, there were chores in the house...attacking the pile of dishes, vacuuming up the endless stream of hair that flows from our dog, walking said dog, feeding said dog, making dinner...and by the time the hour struck ten, I was ready to sleep.

Physical labor requires physical rest.  It's a basic reality.

Which is why I find myself fuddled by the latest kerfuffle coming from the big dangling nether states.  Texas and Florida legislatures have both recently made it illegal for counties to require water and rest breaks for farm workers.

Here, I confess to being of two minds.  Most of the souls whose hands and backs bring us our food are Latino, and many work here without the protections of citizenship.  There's a strong profit motivation for unscrupulous growers to take advantage of that status, knowing that people who fear summary arrest, detention, and deportation are far more likely to endure abusive work conditions.  Protecting those human beings would be best and first accomplished by providing a clear, sane, and open path to citizenship.  

As a still yet more important matter, ensuring humane working conditions seems necessary if you're not, well, evil.  If you can't run a business without inflicting harm on your workers, then that business is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.  Biblically speaking, I'm on solid ground here.

But...then there are the regulations being proposed.  'Cause the county regulations in question seem insufficient.  In Florida, they mandate one ten minute water and shade break every two hours.

This is...peculiar.  I mean, isn't it?  Am I wrong here?  I work outside in the summer on the regular, and that's just not quite enough, bro.  The hotter it gets, the more true that becomes.

Field work is physically intensive, and when temperatures rise into the 90s and 100s  (that's in the thirties, for the rest of the world), you've got to have water available all the time.  You've got to take shade breaks whenever you're feeling pressed.  When it's humid out, that gets even harder.

An employer who didn't provide access to water and shade as needed in the conditions that will increasingly become the norm in the American South wouldn't be doing their workers any favors.  With temperatures rising due to climate change (words redacted for Florida readers), any farmer or rancher who worked to the rule would find their workers struggling.  

Sure, the argument that county-by-county regulations are too scattershot might have validity.  But is it a real argument? Are the folks making that argument arguing for clearer federal and state level regulations, or suggesting that business should be utterly free?  Are they arguing that the biblical injunction to give adequate sabbath to laborers and to never ever oppress or profit maximize doesn't apply, because Reasons?

Then something rather different is at play.