November 18, 2009
Construction has become one of the most unsafe, unfair and dangerous jobs in Texas, according to a recent report released by the Workers Defense Project, which found that a construction worker was killed on the job every two and a half days in the state in 2007.
â€śSeventy percent of the construction workers in
Austin are immigrants that donâ€™t speak English,â€ť said Cristina TzintzĂşn, project director at the Workers Defense Project, which advocates for Austinâ€™s low-wage workers. She added: â€śWhen the population is immigrant, the politicians donâ€™t have the same interest to protect them as if they were U.S. citizens or white people.â€ť
In 2007, 142 construction workers died in Texas, more than any other state in the country, according to the study â€śBuilding Austin, Building Injustice.â€ť Total fatalities in the construction sector in the U.S. for the same year were 1,204.
The study, which was done in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin and the University of
Illinois at Chicago, showed that while the industry plays a vital role in the economy of cities like Austin, most of the jobs in the construction sector violate federal and state employment regulations. Besides that, Texas construction workers earn two to three dollars less per hour than their counterparts in other states who perform the same skilled work.
â€śTexas is an anti-workers rights and a pro-business state,â€ť said TzintzĂşn. â€śUnlike any other state, in Texas we donâ€™t have OSHA state offices; neither do we have some basic workers rights like the right to have a day off when it is 100 degrees outside.â€ť
In addition to that, TzintzĂşn said, Texas is under the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Melerine v. Avondale. â€śWe are one of the few regions in the country in which contractors canâ€™t be cited for OSHA violations,â€ť she said. â€śIn any other state, contractors can be cited, but not here in Texas.â€ť
In the case of Austin, where the construction sector is one of the top 10 industry employers in the city, the study found that 45 percent of surveyed construction workers earned poverty-level wages, and the large majority of them lacked benefits like health insurance (76 percent), pensions (81 percent), sick days (87 percent) or vacation days (77 percent).
Of the workers surveyed, one in five reported having suffered a workplace injury that required medical attention. Sixty-four percent reported lack of basic health and safety training.
â€śThe majority of the workers have not had any kind of training in safety issues,â€ť said TzintzĂşn.
According to the U.S. Hispanic Association of Contractors de Austinâ€™s website, 18 construction workers had died in OSHAâ€™s central Texas region in the first eight months of 2009. Of those, 15 were Latinos.
The Workers Defense Projectâ€™s report includes a series of best-practice recommendations for policymakers and employers, including enforcing health and safety regulations to prevent injuries and death on the job, as well as ensuring strict enforcement against wage theft.