Texas can be a difficult place to win for workers. But Workers Defense Project has found a model for success because we use creative organizing tactics. We have already won two statewide bills to make the construction industry safer and more sustainable. This legislative session we will be at the Capitol every day advocating for working families. Here are just a few of our priorities for 2015:
Safety: Nearly 40% of Texas construction workers report not receiving rest breaks on the job. Without the chance to sit in the shade and drink water, workers risk suffering heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death. When these disasters happen, workers are forced to miss work and then struggle to provide for their families. Entire communities feel the consequences of unsafe work environments. Texas workers must have the right to rest to ensure a safe and sustainable construction industry.
Misclassification: Misclassification (payroll fraud) is a pervasive problem in the Texas construction industry. When unscrupulous employers misclassify employees as independent contractors, they avoid responsibilities such as paying a minimum wage, providing medical coverage in case of worksite injury, paying into unemployment insurance, and siphoning off taxes from each worker’s paycheck. Payroll fraud in Texas results in an estimated $54.5 million in lost unemployment insurance tax revenue and hundreds of millions more in lost federal income tax. While employers avoid their responsibilities, misclassified workers must pick up the bill. Businesses should hold up their end of the bargain to workers, communities, and competing businesses.
Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ compensation ensures that workers will be able to afford medical treatment and support their families when injured on the job. Unfortunately, Texas is the only state in the country that does not require employers to carry workers’ compensation or an equivalent. As a result, many employers try to cut corners and save costs by leaving workers uncovered in cases of injury on the job. This leaves working families struggling to pay their medical costs, and taxpayers responsible for picking up the bill. When workers are injured on the job they should receive the benefits and care they need to continue supporting themselves and their families.
Wage theft: Texas construction is a $72 billion industry, but the workers building our state often don’t feel the benefits, as many employers cut corners and steal wages from hard working families. More than one in five Texas construction workers report not being paid for their work, and more than half report being unable to cover their basic needs. When workers aren’t paid, they are forced to fall back on public safety nets. Meanwhile, responsible business who do pay workers fair wages struggle to compete. Texas can only create a fair and sustainable construction industry by requiring that workers are paid honest wages for their honest work.