Last year, the Workers Defense Project in collaboration with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin and with a grant from the Sociological Initiatives Foundation undertook a study of the state of the construction industry in Austin, Texas. In a combination of research and controlled interviews, they compiled the report entitled Building Austin, Building Injustice: Construction Working Conditions in Austin, Texas.
Austin is the state capitol of Texas. The findings of the report were revealing if not downright shocking. Those findings were most likely indicative of the current state of the construction industry in the rest of Texas as well as the United States.
The base findings of the reports included:
“Poverty level wages. Forty-five percent of surveyed construction workers earned poverty level wages. In addition, nearly half of construction workers reported not having enough financial resources to support their families.
Failure to be paid. One in five workers reported being denied payment for their construction work in Austin. Fifty percent of construction workers reported not being paid overtime, and for many this resulted in the inability to pay for food and housing.
Few employment benefits. The large majority of construction workers lacked health insurance (76%), pensions (81%), sick days (87%) or vacation days (77%).
High rates of dangerous and unsafe working conditions. One in five surveyed construction workers has suffered a workplace injury that required medical attention. Sixty-four percent of surveyed workers lacked basic health and safety training, and many were forced to provide their own safety equipment (47% of residential construction workers provided their own hard hats).
Death on the job. In 2007, 142 construction workers died in Texas, more than any other state in the country. California ranked second highest with 81 – about half as many – deaths. Subsequently, 15% of surveyed construction workers reported personally knowing someone who had died due to a construction work-related injury.
Denied legal protections. Employers frequently misclassified workers as independent contractors instead of employees, thus stripping them of their rights to overtime pay, workers’ compensation coverage, benefits, and shifting the burden of payroll taxes to the worker. Survey results showed that 38% of construction workers were misclassified as independent contractors.”
This study and the Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers study undertaken by UCLA are two of the recent studies which take a hard look at the current practices in the construction industry. Both of these studies make recommendations in a number of areas for change and policy improvement to help make our industry a safer place to work and one in which to build an active career.
The Austin Worker’s Defense Project has filed suits with the Texas Workforce Commission, OSHA and the US Department of Labor in order to ensure a more socially responsible industry in the Austin area. You can learn more by visiting their website: Building A Better Austin.