On the afternoon of January 27th two construction workers fell three stories from an improperly constructed scaffold, killing 29 year old Elvis Mendez and leaving another worker seriously injured. The two men were doing caulking work at the Village on Little Texas apartment complex, a city-subsidized affordable housing project.
According to Danilo Avila, a co-worker of the men, the work crew had been finalizing construction and the majority of the construction workers were from Dallas, including Elvis Mendez who left behind a wife and two children. “It’s not right that something like this should happen. No one should have to die on the job,” stated Mr. Avila.
The Village on Little Texas is owned by Austin Housing Finance Corp, a for-profit developer that received HUD federal funding and was given $2.94 million from a City of Austin bond to finance the project. The project met with criticism from housing advocates because in addition to the bond money, it is entirely exempt from property taxes, a tax break of $300-400,000 per year, even though only 1/5 of its units are affordable to the city’s poorer residents.[i]
According to the Austin Police Department, the workers fell from a “makeshift” scaffold they were using to reach the third floor of the complex. “By cutting corners on safety to save a little money, this company cost a man his life,” stated Cristina Tzintzun, of Workers Defense Project.
“A little over a year ago I saw my three co-workers killed because of faulty scaffolding,” stated Gumercindo Rodriguez, one of the survivors of the 21Rio accident in Austin in June of 2009. “For me this is another unnecessary tragedy. With the right safety equipment and training this worker could be home with his family tonight” said Mr. Rodriguez.
According to a 2009 study by the University of Texas at Austin and Workers Defense Project, Texas is the most deadly state to work in construction, with a construction worker dying every 2.5 days.[ii] The report, Building Austin, Building Injustice: Working Conditions in Austin’s Construction Industry, found legal violations on the majority of worksites throughout Austin, 64% of workers reported that they had never received a basic safety training, and that one in five had suffered a serious accident on the job that required medical attention.[iii]
“Austin has the second strongest housing market in the country, yet those who build our homes face some of the most dangerous and unhealthy working conditions in the country,” stated Workers Defense Project’s Safety Trainer, Jason Cato.[iv] “Texas needs to do more to ensure safe working conditions for construction workers,” said Cato.
To raise awareness of Texas’ unsafe and deadly construction industry, Workers Defense Project is hosting the “Day of the Fallen“ on March 2nd, 2011, when the organization will memorialize the lives of the Texas construction workers who died on the job in 2009 by carrying 138 coffins to the state Capitol. “We want to remember the lives of the workers who will never return home this year, and see our state legislators do more to protect us,” said Gumercindo Rodriguez.
[i] Dexheimer, Eric. “Critics Question Deal on Housing Project,” Austin American Statesman. June 9, 2009.
[ii] Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2009, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in cooperation with state and federal agencies.
[iii] Building Austin, Building Injustice: Working Conditions in Austin’s Construction Industry, 2009.
[iv] “Raleigh and Austin are Fastest-Growing Metro Areas,” U.S. Census Bureau News, 19 March 2009,