Workers in US South are organizing to demand relief from the extreme heat

Service industry workers speak out against low-wage, life-threatening work, and demand safety measures be implemented immediately

June 18, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Workers rally in front of a Popeyes location in Atlanta, George (Photo: USSW)

On June 18, workers in the service industry, in cities across the US South, held a rallies to demand that their bosses provide relief from extreme heat conditions. Simultaneous rallies were held in Atlanta, Charleston, and Durham, featuring workers from chain service stores including Popeyes and Family Dollar. Family Dollar workers are also in the process of filing a complaint with the public worker safety agency Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

This cross-state action was organized by members of the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), a new cross-sector labor union working to organize some of the lowest paid workers in the United States. Recently, USSW workers won major raises at fast food giant Waffle House. 

“We demand a safe work environment. We shouldn’t work in heat that is unbeatable. I am intolerant to high temperatures, I can not do heat to this degree.” said Mari Robinson, a cashier at Family Dollar in Durham, North Carolina. “Even customers come in and are hot. We do a lot of work in the heat. When we take breaks for drinks or rest, we get reprimanded. At Family Dollar, management doesn’t care, corporate sure doesn’t seem to care.”

Workers organizing with the USSW are demanding that their employers provide effective air conditioning, water and water breaks, compensation for heat related store closures, input on developing heat safety plans, and proper training for workers to recognize the symptoms and emergency protocol regarding heat stress.

“We’re constantly sweating. My shirt will be drenched working in that store. It honestly feels like you’re going to die from how hot it is.” said Destiny Mervin, a Popeye’s worker in Atlanta. “Someone fainted last week and the week before that, someone had a seizure. Popeye’s does not care. A worker shouldn’t have to die for Popeye’s to take unbearable heat seriously.”