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May
2014
16

Texas Surprises with House Committee Meetings Trumpeting Construction Safety, Training, Pay Standards

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The Texas House Business and Industry Committee continues to hold exploratory meetings in preparation for major changes to worker misclassification and compensation standards in the construction industry, and a ‘who’s who’ of business and labor leaders are coming out in unified support of the increased regulations. In These Times writer Amien Essif explains that despite the absence of union density in Texas, old-fashioned union ideas are being championed by unexpected parties due to the need for reform.  

Stan Marek, CEO of construction giant Marek Brothers, testified before the committee on April 22nd.  He described the Texas construction industry as “the Wild West”:

“You just basically put the word out how many men you need, they show up on your job, you tell them you’re going to pay them as independent contractors. In Texas, you can get them to sign a waiver to give up their right to worker’s compensation if [they get] hurt. That’s legal in Texas.”

Marek also championed the Construction Career Collaborative (C3), a one-year-old association of “socially responsible” business owners and contractors that offers accreditation to companies that meet their standards.  These standards include safety training, craft training, and the payment of fair wages.  The group seeks to build a more sustainable workforce by improving conditions and providing career incentives.  

Marek, whose company has a prominent role on the board, explained the need for C3:

“Kids aren’t going to go into construction working as an independent subcontractor responsible for their own taxes, not getting overtime, not having a career. They’re not going to do that,” he says. “One of these days, owners and contractors are going to wake up and say ‘Hey, we don’t have any more labor! What are we going to do?’ Well, you’ve got to fix the model.”

Michael Cunningham, Executive Director of the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council, called for the same reforms as C3 in his testimony but wonders, “How do we get more unions involved?’”

Chuck Gremillion, Executive Director of C3, understands the importance of union participation as well:

“Unions do some things well that we need, which is training.  C3 does not provide training; we’re a conduit for training. We’ll provide direction to people where they can get training.” He says C3 directs potential workers toward union-led training programs “if that’s where they could get it.”

Weighing in on the subject was Stephanie Gharakhanian of the Workers Defense Project (WDP), a group which has worked closely with Cunningham and the building trades in recent years.  WDP is not part of C3 but will work with the group in cases where their views on issues align:

“One of the things that I took away is that I think the committee really understands that proper classification is a complete gateway to all of the rights that employees benefit from,” she says. “And I think Chairman Oliveira in particular seemed interested in exploring ways to curb misclassification, whether that’s through increased enforcement or some other incentive regimen.”

A unified call for increased safety standards? Business owners demanding legislation to protect workers and paychecks? We’re not in the Texas workers learned to distrust anymore…

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