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.

When people think about sexual harassment, they usually envision a male co-worker or supervisor targeting a female employee. Most people know that this scenario can be reversed, with a female harasser and a male victim.

But what about same-sex harassment?

Same-sex harassment is equally unlawful, and this may come as a surprise to unwary employers. A recent example is the case of Boh Brothers Construction, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 27, 2013.

This case involved a five-man work crew. The crew superintendent, Wolfe, apparently thought that one of the crew members, Woods, didn't fit in and wasn't manly enough.

According to testimony in the case, Wolfe routinely called Woods names like “princess” and “pussy”, pretended to hump him, and engaged in other abuse. Wolfe testified that he did not think Woods was homosexual (he was not), and was just joking and giving him a hard time.   Read more » about Boh Brothers Construction: the Latest on Same-Sex Harassment

One contractor in Arizona has had enough of what he and others say is “stealing middle class jobs” in his state.  John Jackson has become one of the most aggressive worker misclassification watchdogs we've seen so far – actually walking right onto jobsites and asking people how they get paid.  Jackson told me he's been doing this for about two years and he's now really starting to get attention and results.  The home builders are “on the run”, as he put it.  When confronted, they refuse to answer questions about the practice of misclassifying their workers to avoid payroll taxes and to underbid Jackson and other ethical contractors.

Jackson and his aggressive tactics were first featured on the NBC television affiliate in Phoenix earlier this year, which we highlighted here on Construction Citizen.   Read more » about Misclassification Watchdog Emerges in Arizona [VIDEOS]

After years of pressing Austin leaders to approve a “living wage” law, workers' rights advocates celebrated the passage of a new set of requirements on companies that get tax breaks for relocating and building in the Texas capital.  The city council late Thursday night voted 6-1 to demand that if a company gets a tax break for its project, it must pay the construction workers who build it at least $11 an hour or a “prevailing wage” if that's higher at the time of the construction.  Of the more than 200 people who signed up to testify on the proposal, only 3 were against it.

“What we’ve done over time is make economic incentives a right, not a privilege,” said Councilman Mike Martinez.  “We need to make it a privilege, not a right,” he said, noting that Texas City already does something similar to what Austin will now do.  He and others pointed out that it would be very difficult to argue that Texas City is somehow hostile to business.   Read more » about Austin Demands Higher Wages on Projects That Get Incentives

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