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When the private sector does not address a major issue, the public sector will often step into the vacuum and do it. The construction industry has been slow to embrace the principles of social responsibility and sustainable value, focusing instead on whatever it takes to be lowest bidder. As a consequence of this, government is adopting policies that reshape the rules for the industry.

Despite concerns from some council members about a “cleaner process” for going after employers who cheat workers out of their pay, the chairman of the Houston City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday pledged an “aggressive” timetable to enacting a tough wage theft ordinance.

Committee Chairman Ed Gonzalez held a public hearing on the proposal that included testimony from workers who have been cheated and a construction executive who says he’s “ashamed” that the practice of stealing wages often happens in his industry.  Gonzalez said the concerns “are not falling on deaf ears”.  He said his office has worked with the city attorney to craft something that is workable and will make headway, even if the proposal might need some changes before it can be adopted.  “It’s not good enough to say you can’t stop everyone so you should do nothing,” Gonzalez said.  “We have to address this.”   Read more » about Houston Moves Forward With Wage Theft Crackdown While Private Sector Solution Emerges [VIDEO]

We've been telling you about the problem of wage theft for years and it sounds now like the Houston City Council is getting serious about it. Tomorrow, the council's public safety committee will take testimony on the proposal to go after those unscrupulous employers who steal the labor of their workers.

Laura Perez-Boston, Director of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, is trying to rally support for the city cracking down on this problem. “We have a very narrow window of time to get this ordinance passed and your voice is crucial,” she said in a note to supporters.   Read more » about Houston Considers Wage Theft Ordinance

CongressThe Construction industry, like much of the rest of the country, now turns its attention to the House of Representatives as sweeping immigration reform moves to the lower chamber where Republicans control the agenda. As we've reported, the industry was working hard to persuade senators to lift the arbitrarily low cap on construction workers. The Washington Post now reports that they've lost the battle:

"While industry advocates say the companies will need to hire more than 200,000 new workers per year, under the Senate bill the number of foreign-worker construction visas can never exceed 15,000 per year.

The setback, unusual for an otherwise powerful special-interest lobby, reflects the political tightrope being walked by each party as leaders try to pass an immigration overhaul while balancing concerns from influential skeptics. Read more » about Construction Still Fighting For More Workers in Immigration Bill

Governor Perry signing the billNow that the dust has settled from the regular session of the Texas legislature, there is some good news to report on the issue of worker misclassification. The broad crackdown on the practice that's been called "a cancer" didn't materialize, but an important first step was taken. 

As Construction Citizen has reported, and garnered national attention for, the largest home builders fought tooth and nail to keep a comprehensive worker misclassification crackdown from happening. That bill pushed by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, would have aggressively gone after companies that misclassify their workers with a special focus on construction. But Read more » about Targeted Misclassification Crackdown Signed by Governor Perry

Construction Citizen Weekly Update
Listen to Scott Braddock's highlight of the latest news and information from

A man in a wheelchair is protesting, with tape over his mouth.“If a piece of the building falls to the ground and breaks, they have insurance for that,” said a middle-aged man in a wheelchair in Houston. I sat in a small portable building behind a church, listening through an interpreter as the man, I’ll call him Miguel, told the story of how his spinal cord was injured when he fell on the job building homes along the Gulf Coast. “But, if I fall off a roof and I break, they don’t have insurance for me,” he said. I paused a moment before asking him any more questions, letting that sink in.

The Living Hope Wheelchair Association in Houston was founded to help men with these injuries who have no workers’ compensation. They’re under-funded, barely getting by thanks to the donations of churchgoers and caregivers. A small group of volunteers help these men and women with their most basic needs. And they know how to stretch a dollar. With meager donations, they’re able to buy things like catheters and diapers the injured workers need on a daily basis. As one volunteer showed me their supply, which he was proud of, I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. These are the kinds of things people would rather not have to talk about even if they have to use them. What struck me hardest is the fact that these people are hidden. People don’t talk about them because they've been used and abused. “A democracy can’t survive very long when it throws away its workers,” the volunteer said with an almost revolutionary tone in his voice. Read more » about A Special Report: Thrown Away People

Florida legislators have once again stepped up efforts to crack down on payroll fraud by naming another special prosecutor to investigate and punish workers’ compensation fraud.

Last month, the Palm Beach Post reported that Palm Beach County (containing the cities of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton) is now the latest county to assign a full-time special prosecutor charged with pursuing worker misclassification and workers’ compensation fraud.  The article explains the role of State Attorney Dave Aronberg in procuring the $143,720 for this effort:

“Aronberg, a former state senator, pushed for the money for the new initiative with the help of Florida Department of Financial Services leaders when he visited the state’s capitol during the recently ended legislative session.”

Aronberg is quoted by the Palm Beach Post:

“Workers compensation fraud has far-reaching effects, from costing Florida taxpayers millions to jeopardizing the health and recovery of workers who are injured on the job, to putting legitimate construction companies at an unfair disadvantage against competitors who cut corners and violate the law.”   Read more » about Florida Fights Workers' Compensation Fraud

Yellow Hard HatAs experts and industry leaders get a look at the specifics of the federal immigration reform bill being pushed in the United States Senate, the devil is beginning to emerge from the details. A headline that got our attention here at Construction Citizen was this from the Engineering News Record, or ENR: “Construction Debates Cap for Hardhats.” The piece lays out the raw numbers of what's in the bill versus what the industry needs. And the numbers don't add up.

From the ENR report:

Since mid-April, when the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” unveiled an immigration bill stuffed with compromises and trade-offs, the construction sector has focused on the “W” visa, a proposed guest-worker designation that would limit to 15,000 the number of immigrants allowed to work in construction each year. Read more » about Construction Industry Concerned About the Details of Immigration Reform