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Group Calls for Immigrant Builder Reform

Thursday, February 28, 2013

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Fifty percent of workers in one of the most active construction markets in the U.S. are undocumented, underpaid and less likely to receive life-saving worker training, according to a recent report.

“Texas is facing a crisis in construction,” according to a new study completed by Workers Defense Project, an Austin, TX-based immigrant-rights organization; faculty from the University of Texas; University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston; and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Building a Better Nation

Texas relies on undocumented labor and faces shortages in qualified workers, according to new research from Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas.

The study, “Build a Better Nation: A Case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” was released Thursday, Feb. 21.

In the study, Workers Defense argues that the Texas construction industry “serves as a model of what is to come if our country continues down a path of failed immigration policy,” citing surveys of 1,200 construction workers and dozens of in-depth employer and employee interviews.

The state’s construction industry problems restrict its future growth and shift important costs to workers and the public, Workers Defense reported in “Build a Better Texas: Construction Working Conditions in the Lone Star State.”

Texas relies on undocumented labor and faces shortages in qualified workers, the researchers said.

Current Policy Not Working

“Current policy has left employers with few options other then [sic] to hire undocumented workers, forcing them to put their businesses in legal jeopardy or remain unable to compete,” according to the report.

Workers Defense estimates that 400,000 undocumented immigrants work in construction statewide. Nationally, nearly 7 million workers labor in building construction, the researchers note. They estimate that 14 percent of all construction workers are undocumented, though the actual number varies by region and trade.

Texas House of Representatives

Researchers from the University of Texas and Workers Defense Project presented findings of their report in this press conference sponsored by House Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D).

As an example, about 30 percent of insulation workers, roofers and drywall installers are undocumented, according to the report.

The researchers found that 50 percent of construction workers in Texas are undocumented, and another 20 percent are naturalized citizens, legal residents, or visa workers. In total, 70 percent of the workforce is foreign-born, the report indicates.

Employers need an immigration system that allows them to legally hire the workers they need so they can focus on managing their businesses, not managing immigration policy,” the report said.

Report Highlights

Immigrant workers are paid less, more likely to be victims of wage theft and are more likely to be killed on the job than their U.S.-born counterparts, according to the report.

The researchers reported the following survey findings:

  • On average, U.S.-born construction workers earned $3.12 per hour more than undocumented workers, who reported earning an average of $11.10 per hour.
  • One in four undocumented workers has experienced wage theft, compared to one in 10 U.S.-born workers.
  • 40 percent of U.S.-born workers have not received basic health and safety training; compared to 73 percent of undocumented workers.
  • 29 percent of undocumented workers said they were covered by a workers’ compensation policy, compared to 65 percent of U.S.-born workers.

“Further, immigrants are needed to fill skills gaps in the construction industry,” the researchers said. However, undocumented immigrants only qualify for a few construction training programs, giving them little opportunity to advance in the industry, the report relates.

“Business leaders are left with a limited pool of skilled craftsmen, and with limited options to invest in the current workforce to build quality projects.”

Construction: 'Big Business in Texas'

Texas is one of the largest and most active construction markets in the U.S.; in 2011, the state single-handedly accounted for 16 percent of all new housing construction permits in the U.S., more than California and Florida combined, according to the report. The construction industry employs one out of every 13 Texans.

Baytownbert / Wikimedia Commons

The Texas construction industry accounts for 10 percent of all construction output in the U.S., the report says. "The economic stability of this industry is critical to the state's future economic growth," the group said.

However, despite its importance, the construction industry in Texas faces some serious problems that restrict future growth, according to the Workers Defense report. Those issues include the following.

  • 99 percent of the jobs created between 2005 and 2010 paid wages at or below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
  • 52 percent of workers surveyed had wages below federal poverty guidelines.
  • 41 percent of the construction workers surveyed experienced payroll fraud.
  • Workers receive few non-wage benefits: medical insurance (22 percent); vacation (15 percent); sick leave (12 percent); retirement or pension benefits (9 percent); and workers’ compensation (40 percent).

Texas is also the deadliest state when it comes to construction-related fatalities. Between 2007 and 2011, 585 Texas construction workers died, compared to 299 in California, which had a larger construction work force, the report relates.

The report also notes that Texas is the “only state that does not require employers to provide workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries.”

“Texas also lacks a state OSHA law to supplement the federal OSHA program and provides only one OSHA inspector per 103,899 workers, compared with 1 per 52,416 in California, which (along with 20 other states and Puerto Rico) does have a state OSHA law,” the report says.

Group Argues for 'Pathway to Citizenship'

“Providing all undocumented workers with a pathway to citizenship is necessary to ensure that the industry can continue to employ its current workforce,” the report notes.

“All workers who are free of serious convictions and can demonstrate they are self-sustaining should qualify for legal status as they build an employment record in the mainstream economy,” the report said.

Workers Defense is part of a national movement of organizations speaking out on the issues of immigration reform as President Obama and other leaders in Washington have voiced plans to move forward with comprehensive reform.

The Workers Defense Project empowers low-income workers to achieve fair employment through education, direct services, organizing and strategic partnerships, according to its website. For example, the organization has partnered with OSHA to increase workers’ awareness of hazardous conditions and to provide training for safer and healthier workplaces.

“Given the important role immigrant labor plays in the Texas construction industry, immigration policies that support workers are crucial to the long–term sustainability of Texas’–and the nation’s–economic and social wellbeing,” according to the report.


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; Good Technical Practice; Government; Housing; Residential Construction; Worker training; Workers

Comment from Tom Reese, (2/28/2013, 10:53 AM)

Ya gotta love Texas....hire them illegals and screw the legitimate workers looking for work in the state. Might as well let em all have our jobs now..this country is down the toilet.

Comment from C L, (2/28/2013, 2:30 PM)

What I want to know is whether these construction companies deduct taxes on worker incomes. I think not. If their workers are illegal, then they have no social security #s to attribute them to. Guess what, less taxes means your infrastructure is going to degrade with more people using them everyday. Hate the traffic, longer times for police/fire to show up, potholes not fixed, and higher cost of medical services? It is only going to get worse.

Comment from peter j grady, (3/2/2013, 4:03 PM)

and they have driven down wages for the other 50% for the last 30 years - outrageous. they are illegal workers. face it. illegal. my mom was a legal immigrant. there is a difference. and my daughters mom is a legal hispanic immigrant. there is a difference. they arent victims. they arent being exploited. they actually improved their quality of life by engaging in an illegal act. i am the victim. adjusted to inflation for 30 years my salary has actually decreased in the most booming economic time in our countries history. who is the author of this article? know anything about being a highly skilled tradesperson or owning operating a trades business? i think not. we've believed this globalists induction patter. reality has been turned upside down. insourced illegal labor & outsourcing manufacturing as an economic model has eroded the middle class. its's been a disaster. boom or bust globalist/corporationist economic policy has failed.

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