Heat Waves Are Making Restaurant Kitchens Unsafe. Workers Are Fighting Back.

"As climate change makes summers hotter, restaurant employees are walking out and unionizing."

"Last month, Oscar Hernández couldn’t sleep. The cook, who worked at a restaurant located inside of a Las Vegas casino, had found that after coming home from his shifts, his body would not properly cool down.

The air conditioning at work had been broken for about four months. Hernández worked eight-hour shifts during the restaurant’s brunch service, whipping up eggs, waffles, and fried chicken. He spent hours in front of a scaldingly hot grill — an older model that only ran at extremely high temperatures. Most often, his station on the line was in a corner, and it seemed as if all of the other heat sources in the kitchen — the gas burners, the four deep-fryers, the waffle iron — converged right there. Summer had not officially started, but Las Vegas was already seeing above-normal temperatures in May, sometimes reaching triple digits. The fans that the owners put in the kitchen were not strong enough to cool down the space.  

Extreme heat is nothing new to Hernández, who lives in Nevada and has worked in the restaurant industry for 22 years. But the situation at this non-union restaurant, a rarity on the Las Vegas strip, was becoming untenable. Sometimes it got so hot in the kitchen that Hernández preferred the heat outside, where at least there was a breeze. He had a headache that would not go away, and at home he sometimes found himself getting irritated with his children over small things. "

Frida Garza reports for Grist June 10, 2024.

Source: Grist, 06/13/2024