Report exposes poor working conditions in Austin construction

by Workers Defense Project

“142 construction workers got killed last year [in Texas]…That is a lot of people dying for ten dollars an hour.” – Jet Sahpiro, construction worker

buildaustin_1Austin is the second-fastest growing urban area in the nation; unfortunately, this growth has come at a cost. Workers Defense Project’s recent report, Building Austin, Building Injustice: Working Conditions in Austin’s Construction Industry exposes the reality that most Austin construction workers face on a day-to-day basis: low-wages, poor working conditions, and violations of the law.

Based on primary and secondary data, including 312 surveys completed by construction workers and 37 in-depth interviews with workers and employers in the industry, the Building Austin report reflects the harsh reality of “business as usual” in the industry.

Most shockingly, 142 construction workers died on the job in 2007—that is one worker dying every 2.5 days of the year. Furthermore, one in five workers (21%) reported suffering a workplace injury that required medical attention, but only 45% of surveyed workers were covered by workers’ compensation. Additionally, 64% of surveyed workers did not receive the OSHA 10 Hour safety training, 41% did not receive a rest break besides lunch, and 29% of workers had to provide their own safety equipment or go without.

Although construction is an industry that is estimated to generate $3.5 billion in wages annually, survey data from Building Austin indicates that it is common practice for employers to refuse to pay their workers. One in five workers indicated not being paid a wage for their work, 45% of workers surveyed received poverty-level wages, and half of workers surveyed indicated not being paid overtime.

The Building Austin report has received national attention and as a result of its findings, OSHA has sent more investigators to Texas. Still, more can be done by Austin’s policymakers and employers to ensure that construction workers are paid an honest wage and work on a safe and secure work site.

buildaustin_2Workers Defense Project, a community organization that promotes fair working conditions for Austin’s low-wage workers, collaborated with the local building trades unions and the AFL-CIO federation to produce Building Austin. Specifically, union organizers from the IBEW Local #520 assisted in administering surveys to construction workers. Other union representatives shared industry knowledge during the survey design process and when writing the report. The unions also served as a liaison to union construction employers, some who were interviewed for the report.

The role of labor unions and the AFL-CIO federation in supporting and collaborating on this report has been crucial, not only for helping facilitate the completion of the report, but also for the symbolic interaction between the traditional labor movement and non-unionized workers. Together, Workers Defense Project and the labor unions exposed the violations of the law that construction workers experience on a day-to-day basis. Now, we look to raise industry standards for all workers.

PDL,  was founded in August 2002 by employees and volunteers of Casa Marianella, a Austin  shelter, to address the problem of unpaid wages for Austin’s low-wage workers.   PDL is a worker center, part of a national movement of organizations that seek to provide low-wage workers with the resources they need to fight to eradicate hazardous and unsafe working conditions.

Photos by Lesley Nowlin


2 Responses

  1. Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is **construction safety** site/blog. It pretty much covers ###safety article## related stuff.

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