September 7, 2015
By Scott Braddock
Today is a day of rest for those who toil in the hot sun or blistering cold every day to build Texas and the rest of America. Millions regularly wake up before 5 am, drink their coffee, drive to a jobsite, and – just as they can start to see in the distance the structure on which they’ll work – they’re still about half an hour from parking the truck and getting down to business. Many do that kind of work daily from sun up until sun down and never complain or even ask for a “thank you.”
The Texas Workforce Commission tells us there are more than 13 million workers “who are the backbone” of the Lone Star State. “As we continue to experience positive growth, in job creation and labor force size, the people of the great state of Texas are able to benefit from the thriving economy and opportunities that come with expanding employment,” commissioners said in a statement on Friday. “Texans have much to celebrate,” commissioners said. “Our nearly 500,000 employers continue to add jobs with the addition of 260,500 between July 2014 and July 2015. The state’s unemployment rate remained at 4.2 percent in July and continues to trend below the national rate of 5.3 percent.”
The spirit of Labor Day runs through everything our team does at Construction Citizen. Our mission to advance a socially responsible, sustainable, and value added construction industry includes promotion of great careers as well as shining a bright light on bad actors in this sector of the economy.
While Texas enjoys lower unemployment than much of the rest of the country, far too many of the working men and women in this state are misclassified as independent contractors. That problem contributes to a lack of health insurance and other benefits and protections needed to care for families. Far too many workers labor for unethical bosses who seek to take advantage of them in order to pad their bottom line while gaining an unlawful competitive advantage over firms that cherish their workers. And far too many are the victims of wage theft.
In a special report called Thrown Away People, Construction Citizen’s team brought you some of the stories of those who have been treated this way:
“If a piece of the building falls to the ground and breaks, they have insurance for that,” said a middle-aged man in a wheelchair in Houston. I sat in a small portable building behind a church, listening through an interpreter as the man, I’ll call him Miguel, told the story of how his spinal cord was injured when he fell on the job building homes along the Gulf Coast. “But, if I fall off a roof and I break, they don’t have insurance for me,” he said.
Inch by inch and day by day, progress is being made to improve the situation.
At the state capitol in Austin, a Texas House Panel declared that worker misclassification “compromises free markets” and promotes “lawlessness.” A new law was passed to make it harder for people to evade child support payments through misclassification. That development came after a targeted worker misclassification law was passed in the prior legislative session. Locally, Houston passed an historic wage theft ordinance, and efforts to crack down on wage theft at the state level have gained more traction than ever before.
But, government action is not sufficient to address workforce challenges. Matching people with ethical employers will require a concerted effort across the Houston region and the rest of our state.
That's why ethical contractors support the Construction Career Collaborative (C3), which is driving home the message with owners of projects that they'll reap the most value from a sustainable construction workforce. C3 has been holding its first town halls. Said Executive Director Chuck Gremillion:
“The candid conversations included the all too familiar refrains of ‘making a career in construction attractive again’, ‘eliminating improper employment practices’, and ‘the need to reintroduce craft training in all areas of construction’. The majority, if not all, of the attendees readily understand what the issues are. They also agree that this effort, led by C3 and supported by companies committed to construction careers, can begin to reshape our industry.”
The Greater Houston Partnership, the largest business group in the area, has launched an initiative called UpSkill Houston to promote jobs across seven sectors that do not require a four-year degree. Speaking of college degrees, educators say a completely new mindset is needed to address the challenge, and they’re putting that new mindset to work at San Jacinto College and other community colleges. Construction Citizen toured Lee College in Baytown last week, and we will feature some of their innovative programs in the days to come.
Our team has also launched the Craft Careers Section of Construction Citizen to help match prospective employees with the right training and information they need to enjoy solid careers in the industry.
Those are all some of the ways in which our community is regularly honoring working men and women.
Today, like you, we take a break to celebrate. Tomorrow, it’s back to work.