The following article is a guest piece by Jose Garza, Executive Director of Workers Defense Project:
Today, the middle class is out of reach for too many men and women working in the Texas construction industry.
That hasn’t always been the case.
After serving in the Pacific during World War II, my grandfather, Saul, returned to Texas in 1945 hopeful and optimistic about the future. He got his start working for a general contractor in San Antonio where he picked up the skills that would lay the foundation for the life that he and his family hoped to build.
Eventually, through his hard work and good fortune, he was hired by the Texas Highway Department. There, he earned good wages and had access to benefits that allowed him to raise eight children and put several of them through college.
I know that we all believe that Texas can and should be a place where working families can get ahead. The Texas construction industry provided a path for Saul and his family into the middle class. Many of your parents and grandparents probably have similar stories about how the private and public sector construction industry helped lay a middle-class foundation for their families.
But for too many hard working men and women in construction, those opportunities just do not exist. In fact, many families working in construction must overcome poverty wages, deadly working conditions, wage theft, and repeated violations of local, state, and federal law by their employer.
A news report indicated that the Texas construction industry is a $54 billion a year industry.
While the Texas construction industry is booming, too many men and women struggle just to make ends meet.
Workers Defense Project believes that we, collectively, can do better for working people in this state. That’s why we have been advocating on behalf of working families in Texas construction for the last decade.
Through the Better Builder program, we have worked hand-in-hand with responsible developers and institutions to ensure that their construction sites offer a living wage, worker's compensation, OSHA-10 safety training, and independent onsite monitoring to ensure that these working standards are met.
Just last month, Austin City Council passed a landmark policy that makes Better Builder standards minimum requirements for the city’s new fast track permitting program. Some in industry have expressed concern. I know that some of you are scared about what this means for your business and your family.
Some folks in the construction industry have even claimed that we just a front for unions, or that worker protections just aren’t necessary.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
At Workers Defense Project, we work with responsible developers and contractors, labor, community groups, faith leaders along with their churches, and student groups, to raise construction standards and help ensure men and women make it home to their family each night.
We have worked with Apple, Trammell Crow, Austin Community College, Foundation Communities, Travis County, Capital Metro, and others to ensure their construction results in good, safe construction jobs.
We want to work with you, because the results are clear. Through our Better Builder Program, we’ve ensured nearly 10,000 workers have gained access to good, safe construction jobs. Many construction workers report wage increases. Thirty percent of construction workers report receiving workers’ compensation for the first time, and thirty-eight percent report receiving OSHA-10 for the first time.
Unfortunately, we know the dangers of the construction industry because we have lost so many workers to this industry: Roendy Granillo, Ramiro Loa, and Jorge Morales are just a few of the names that haunt our members most deeply. We meet people everyday who have fallen victim to wage theft, been injured on the job, or have lost a loved one to deadly working conditions.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Together, we can ensure that the Texas construction industry is a source of safe, good jobs and that is continues to flourish and create wealth for thousands of hardworking Texas families for generations to come. I believe deeply that there are ways community groups like Workers Defense Project and industry can work together.
If you believe like I do, our door is open. We want to work with you.
Together, we can ensure that every family working in construction has the same opportunities that Saul did.
Jose P. Garza is the Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project. Garza is a native Texan who has devoted his career to the fight for working families and immigrant families. Garza previously served as a senior policy official for the U.S. Secretary of Labor.