Unions and organizations that advocate for workers are teaming up to improve the conditions of all workers in Texas. The Workers Defense Project (WDP) and the Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council have seen quite a bit of success in their collaboration on behalf of the working families of the Lone Star State.
Getting a wide range of different groups working together involved several challenges. Organizations in the state that advocate for workers have disparate missions and goals and, according to Michael Cunningham, executive director of the Texas State Building Trades Council, learning to listen to each other took patience and perseverance. But it worked, he said, and the groups came together.
We have a united voice. We are working together and we’re not going to let [anyone] divide us.
Another key early task was doing the research necessary to understand the problems that workers face. The groups found that conditions for construction workers in Texas are the worst in the United States. With more than 100 deaths on construction sites each year, the state averages one worker death every two and a half days. The survey found that nearly half of all construction workers in the state live below the poverty level, with as many as one in five reporting not getting paid for work. Texas also does not require workers’ compensation to be available to workers on all jobs.
Once the extent of the problems was recognized, it was time to take action. The primary pursuit was pushing the state legislature to pass laws to address many important issues, including wage theft, worker misclassification, prevailing and living wages, safety training and others. Events also were created to raise public awareness, such as the “Day of the Fallen,” where organizers placed 142 pairs of empty boots in front of the Austin City Hall to represent the workers who had died on construction sites the previous year. The combination of the pursuit of legislative goals and raising public awareness has already begun to pay off. Legislation cracking down on wage theft was passed through the Republican legislature. Workers in Austin won the right to rest breaks during their shifts. A number of local agreements were reached with developers to lock in prevailing wages. Several new bills the coalition supports are going to be introduced in the next legislative session.
Cunningham and Cristina Tzintzun, WDP director, both express their belief that the collaboration their organizations has engaged in has led to success and sets the stage for future victories on behalf of the working families of Texas.
Read more about the Workers Defense Project on the AFL-CIO Now blog: Austin’s Workers Defense Project: A Decade Winning for Workers.