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.

Responsible Business Owners and Working Families Urge Council Support and Action to Bring Wage Theft Down

As Houston city council members shift into campaign mode to convince voters to re-elect them on November 5, thousands of Houstonians are urging them to close unfinished business when it comes to wage theft.  Last week, faith and business industry leaders along with working families and employees of city subcontractors with cases of wage theft all gathered together in front of City Hall with a clear message: pass the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance now!  Following that show of support for the ordinance, Mayor Annise Parker has since stated that she will put the proposed ordinance on the Full Council Agenda for vote on November 13th.

On October 15, supporters of the ordinance gathered with posters profiling two local families affected by wage theft.  The group heard from speakers including Reverend Ron Lister, Reverend John Griffin, Sister Ceil Roeger, and Joe Marcinkowski.   Read more » about Houstonians Expose Impacts of Wage Theft on Victims and Urge City Council to Act

Efforts to crack down on worker misclassification in Texas took a step forward this year with the passage of a targeted crackdown on the practice that some have gone so far as to call “organized crime”.  But, as we've reported, there is much more to do as far as implementation of the law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Rick Perry.  Many players in commercial construction are hopeful that when the legislature convenes again in 2015, a broader misclassification crackdown like the one pushed this year by Senator John Carona, R-Dallas, can become reality.

Meantime in Arizona, one man in particular has had enough and he's become an aggressive watchdog on what he and others are now calling “illegal labor”.   Read more » about Worker Misclassification in Arizona: “Business Off the Books”

Worker safety is simply a priority for us at Construction Citizen just like it should be for any company doing construction around the world.  Apparent safety violations were a big part of the recent problems that turned into a huge embarrassment for several companies involved in student housing construction at the University of Texas at Austin.  The “race to the bottom in construction”, as it's been called, nearly always involves companies that have total disregard for worker safety.  It's part of a culture in which it's also routine to deny workers their overtime pay as well as misclassify them specifically to avoid paying taxes.

Now comes news that OSHA dropped the hammer on a construction company in Oregon that wasn't protecting its workers from falls.  Perhaps more importantly, the government seems to be getting more aggressive about taking preventative steps to ensure worker safety.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company in this case, Munoz Construction, $70,000.   Read more » about Protect Against Falls or Pay Up

As a longtime supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, I am more optimistic than ever about a real solution coming out of Washington.  The partisanship and ideology surrounding the issue are melting away, replaced by pragmatism and a realization that we cannot continue the status quo.

As a conservative Republican businessman, I've been disappointed over the years to see many in my own party become completely intractable on the issue.  But, there are real leaders emerging who want to set aside the divisions of the past, roll up their sleeves, and craft reform that improves our economy and corrects years of social injustice.  GOP Texas Congressmen Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, John Carter and Pete Olson all now support comprehensive reform that includes a robust guest worker program.   Read more » about Immigration Reform Must Raise the Bar for Workers and Level the Playing Field for Ethical Businesses

Real independent contractors are easy to identify.  They are hired to perform a specific project, they bring their own tools, they have their own business cards, and they send you an invoice when the work is done.

If you hire people to perform ongoing work for your company, tell them when to show up and what to do, those people are not independent contractors.

I am oversimplifying things to make a point: the concept of “contract labor” is overused in the construction industry.

Contrary to popular opinion, hiring people as “contract labor” is not a legal option if you control when, how and where they perform the work.  You can’t fix the problem by having each individual sign an independent contractor agreement.  Government authorities do not have to accept your paperwork: they will look at the reality of the arrangement and decide whether there is an employer-employee relationship.   Read more » about Independent Contractors – Keeping it Real

Following reports on the alleged mistreatment of workers on University of Texas student house projects, some of those workers actually received some good news this past week.  They’ve now received checks for the overtime their bosses had previously denied them.

After fighting very hard to get it, the Workers Defense Project in Austin let us know that some of the workers recovered $35,000 in overtime payment that they were due for work on the Calloway House project that was featured in the follow-up report from The Daily Texan.  Workers Defense held a celebration at their offices for those workers and to offer encouragement to others who are still trying to recover money they are owed.

“Without God, none of this would be possible,” said one worker who was elated to finally get his paycheck.  It’s not the first time he’s been stiffed by an unscrupulous construction company owner.  “This happens way too much, but these people helped me get the money I had already earned so I can feed my family.”   Read more » about Workers Win $35,000 in Overtime Pay Owed for UT Student Housing

We've heard from many construction executives in Houston who are watching the race for City Controller with great interest, largely because of one of the key issues being raised by candidate Bill Frazer: the city’s controversial drainage fee. The reason construction executives have been watching this closely is because some of them would be awarded contracts to build the drainage projects to be funded by the fee. But, the problem is there seems to be mismanagement of the fee – or at the very least it seems to be under-performing in a way that doesn't live up to the hype.

Bob Price at TexasGOPVote first noted these problems:

  • The 2012 drainage fee collections were only $108 million, $17 million less than targeted. 2013 and 2014 estimates are even lower, at $103 million for each year. This produces a three-year shortfall of over $60 million. It should also be noted that the ReBuild Houston website posts an interim report reflecting estimated

  Read more » about Some in Construction Are Watching Houston’s Drainage Fee Controversy

It has been three years since we began reporting about wage theft and worker misclassification here on Construction Citizen.  In September 2010 Jim Kollaer reported that twenty-three states at that time had signed Wage Theft and/or Worker Misclassification bills into law.  That number has now grown to thirty and may continue to grow as local governments grow tired of waiting for Congress to pass legislation on these issues at a national level.

Back in 2010, there were two federal bills under consideration: The Fair Playing Field Act (SB 3786) and The Employee Misclassification Prevention Act (HR 5107).  Neither of these ever made it out of committee.   Read more » about Wage Theft Legislation Update