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NPR: Texas Contractors Say Playing By The Rules Doesn't Pay

In the second installment of his excellent series on the Texas construction industry, NPR Correspondent Wade Goodwyn highlights the difference between contractors who play by the rules, like Marek Brothers Systems in Houston, and companies that misclassify their employees.  The former is out front with how they do business, and the latter doesn't even want their name used on the radio or in print.

From the report:

At Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Marek's workers are building the interior for the hospital's newest wing.  Workers ride around on what are called “motorized man lifts”, which allow them to work high in the air, power tools in hand.

Baylor Hospital is the kind of client that hires Marek's companies – an owner that must have its building done to exacting specifications.  But these days that’s unusual, according to Stan Marek, CEO of the Marek Family of Companies.  He says that the main thing most clients care about is how cheaply the job can be done.

That's where the subcontractors – and “independent contractors” – come in.

“It's very common in our industry for hourly guys to do the framing, which is putting up the middle studs, and then hiring a sub-crew to come in and do the Sheetrock, and then hiring a different sub-crew to come in and do the taping and floating,” Stan Marek explains.  “And a different sub-crew to come in and do the grid for the ceiling.  And a different crew to put in the tile.  That's very common.”

And that's how an estimated half-million undocumented, mostly Hispanic construction workers go to work each day in Texas.  Stan Marek says in the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s, his uncle, John Marek, who started the company, paid union wages, and his workers lived stable, middle-class lives.

On the other hand, Goodwyn points to a contractor in Dallas who does not want his last name used:

Trent says he'd be happy to classify his workers as employees and pay the government all it's owed as long as his competition does the same.  But the reality is that Trent often finds he's underbid on landscape projects, even though he's paying his undocumented workers $70 a day.

“The fact of the matter is that the people that I'm competing against have the same large pool of undocumented workers to use on their crews,” he says.

Trent says blaming him for the nation's immigration problem is like blaming an Army corporal because a war was lost.  He says he didn't make this competitive playing field or the Texas or Mexican economies.  He's one 40-year-old man in landscape construction, he says, doing the best he can.

“If there wasn't such a readily available supply of laborers that are looking for work in my exact line of business, then I would say I am doing wrong and that I should play by the rules,” Trent says.  “I don't feel as though I'm doing anything wrong.”

You can listen to the entire NPR report below, and then ask yourself this simple question:

If that contractor doesn't want his last name used, do you really believe that he thinks he isn’t doing anything wrong?

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Click here for part 1


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