The debate goes on without resolution. “Are undocumented workers taking good construction jobs away from hard-working Americans?” One side says an emphatic “Yes.” The other side says, “No, they are taking jobs that most Americans don’t want.” We have some information that you can take a look at as you make up your mind what you believe.
One of our readers sent us a copy of the Worker Wage Rate Form from the University of Texas System –Office of Facilities and Construction. This form is being used on a Student Housing project at The University of Texas, San Antonio, and likely on projects throughout the UT System.
As you look at these rates, ask yourself whether you would recommend that anyone you know rush over to work on this project. These are the hourly rates that the UT folks will accept on this project for craft workers. (Keep in mind that the Federal Minimum Wage is currently $7.25/ hour.)
|Air Conditioning Mechanic||$7.25|
|Cement Mason/Concrete Finisher||$7.46|
The owner’s spec says that wages must be equal to or exceed the rates shown above. It would be interesting to see how many of the specialty sub contractor bids showed any amounts greater than the minimums shown.
This year, we have seen record high temperatures in San Antonio and across Texas. So the conversation with a family friend might be, “Take this job and YOU can be a roofer for minimum wage in 120° F heat.” I think that person might not be your friend much longer.
So, for minimum wage, you most likely get minimum quality and safety. And the worker must struggle to take home only a minimum wage paycheck at the end of a tough week. You might ask what level of quality and safety you can expect from a workforce being paid minimum wage. You might also ask how much to add in to your bid for rework because of the skill level of the workforce you attracted with the wage schedule. Chances are pretty high that you will attract undocumented workers who will take the job for a paycheck, and misclassified 1099 workers or “independent contractors“ who will work for pay under the table on low bid projects like this one.
There is an adage that, “You get what you pay for.” It is evident to this observer that someone needs to take a hard look at what result the UT system is encouraging with a wage schedule like this one. Would I want my kids to work on this project even for the summer or to live in a project built by minimum wage craft workers?
On the issue of whether the undocumented workers are taking jobs away from Americans, the answer is clear to me. They are taking the jobs that we won’t take and they are taking them for wages lower than we would accept. As long as owners are willing to accept “Low bid” and Low wage as their ultimate goals, we will be unable to build a sustainable career-oriented workforce for the future.