A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Taxpayers on the Hook for Injured Workers

Construction in Texas may be "cheap," but that's only if you consider the final price of the project. In most cases, the true costs are borne by workers, taxpayers, and society at large. Case in point: WFAA's David Schecter, a quality journalist who exposed worker misclassification in a North Texas school district, this week took the time to highlight the story of Guillermo Mata.

From WFAA:

In December, Mata shattered his leg after falling from the second story onto a concrete floor at construction site in Irving.

"Take me to Parkland (hospital),” Mata recalls saying after the injury.

Hospitals cannot refuse to treat an injured person, and Texas is the only state in the country where the boss is not on the hook to buy insurance that covers the cost when a worker's injured.

Cutting that cost means cheaper construction in Texas, but critics say that cost just gets passed along to hospitals and taxpayers.

Mata's bill at Parkland is $110,000. Can he pay it?

"I don't think so," he said. "It's a lot of money."

Mata is suing the general contractor on the job, ICI Construction. Mata's attorney said there is no evidence Mata was covered by workers comp, which would've paid for his care.

ICI declined to comment for this story, but in a court record, the company said Mata was not an employee of ICI -- that he worked for a sub-contractor.

And that's exactly how the company gets off the hook for this while taxpayers are stuck holding the bag.

We've been highlighting the problem of worker misclassification, also known as payroll fraud, for years on Construction Citizen. I'm going to go out on what is likely not a long limb and guess Mata is misclassified - another way in which employers shirk responsibility for him and thousands of others. Schecter also talked with Workers Defense Policy Analyst and Construction Citizen blogger Emily Timm:

"I think taxpayers are definitely picking up the tab,” said Timm.

How big could the tab be?

Research from the University of Texas shows, of all the construction workers in Texas, two-out-of-five have no workers' compensation.

"That's a lot of workers on Texas construction sites who are working at their own risk,” Timm said.

At their own risk, indeed.

About a year ago I spoke with some former construction workers with spinal cord injuries in Houston. They have a support group called the "Living Hope Wheelchair Association," and they do some amazing work. Information about how to donate to them is here.

One of the guys, speaking through a translator, made the incredible point that if he was working on a high-rise and a piece of the building fell to the ground and shattered, the company would have insurance for that. But, when he fell and his body was shattered, he was left with nothing but the kindness of his fellow man.

How many times must the dots be connected before our state's leaders will finally make the changes that would improve the lives of these workers, level the playing field for ethical businesses, and lighten the load for Texas taxpayers? It's looking less and less likely it will happen during this legislative session in Austin.

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.


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