The Texas construction industry is facing a crisis. Construction work in the state is dangerous and unfair for workers and companies that refuse to play by the rules have a competitive advantage over those who do.
In order to create a better Texas, we need our legislators to move quickly on legislative proposals that would make the construction industry more sustainable and fair for workers and their families, businesses, and local communities.
To this end, the Build a Better Texas Coalition is converging in Austin today for the Day of the Fallen. The coalition is a statewide group of community organizations, churches, business leaders in the construction industry, and other concerned groups and individuals.
The Day of the Fallen starts with visits with lawmakers to educate them about the legal violations and dangerous conditions Texas construction workers face on the job and what Texas can do to make sure that they are paid fairly and make it home safe to their families.
The event concludes with a march from the J.J. Pickle Federal Building Plaza to the South Steps of the Capitol to raise awareness about the plight of construction workers and to honor those who have lost their lives building Texas.
Fuerza del Valle Workers Center has been an active member of the Build a Better Texas Coalition. Fuerza is sending a delegation to Austin to participate in the Day of the Fallen and to highlight working conditions in the Rio Grande Valley. The center is composed of workers, leaders within La Union del Pueblo Entero, South Texas Civil Rights Project, Proyecto Juan Diego, and other organizations within the Equal Voice Network.
The stakes in Texas’s construction industry are very high. The 2010 U.S. census estimated that there are 950,000 construction workers in the state of Texas. One in thirteen Texas workers labor in the construction industry and $1 out of every $20 generated by the Texas economy comes from the industry. In 2011, Texas single-handedly accounted for 16% of new housing construction permits in the country, more than California and Florida combined.
Despite the relative prosperity and growth of the industry in Texas compared to other states, it remains the worst when it comes to pay and safety for workers. More construction workers die in Texas than any other state, and one in five workers is seriously injured on the job due to lack of safety training and equipment. From 2007 to 2011, 585 construction workers died in Texas, compared to 299 in California.
Leaders in both the House and Senate have filed legislation that would create positive change in the Texas construction industry. They deserve careful consideration and wide public support.
SB 167 (Sen. Deuell) and HB 493 (Rep. Hernandez Luna) require OSHA 10-hour safety trainings for all workers on state-owned or funded construction sites to address the fact that 60% of construction workers do not receive basic safety training.
HB 475 (Rep. Walle) and SB 740 (Sen. Rodriguez) require construction employers to provide workers compensation. Currently, only 40% of construction workers report having workers compensation resulting in financial ruin for unprotected workers who are injured or taxpayers picking up the tab for uncompensated hospital visits.
HB 731 (Rep. Raymond) and SB 341 (Sen. Rodriguez) require construction employers to provide workers with breaks every 4 hours on government sites to rest and drink water. This bill would reduce the number of accidents and deaths on the job due to laboring in the deadly heat.
HB 372 (Rep. Deshotel) creates penalties for construction employers who illegally misclassify their employees as independent contractors to lower costs, to gain a competitive advantage in bidding for contracts, and to shift tax burdens to working families. Every year Texas is cheated out of $54.5 million in unpaid unemployment insurance tax due to misclassification.
HB 298 (Rep. Rodriguez) prohibits retaliation under Texas Pay Day Law. Right now, 1 out of 3 workers who try to recover wages is retaliated against by their employer. HB 494 (Rep. Hernandez Luna) and SB 741 (Sen. Rodriguez), HB 1131 (Rep. Gonzalez), and SB 340 (Sen. Rodriguez) all strengthen enforcement against wage theft to deal with the fact that one in five construction workers is denied pay by their employer.
These bills are concrete steps Texas can take to promote safe worksites, provide access to medical care for injured workers, and ensure that workers are paid fairly. They are good for workers, good for their families, good for honest businesses, and good for Texas.
To learn more about Texas’s construction industry, read Build A Better Texas: Construction Working Conditions in the Lone Star State, a Report from Workers Defense Project in collaboration with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. It can be downloaded at: http://www.workersdefense.org/Build%20a%20Better%20Texas_FINAL.pdf