Students raise awareness about unsafe construction sites.

2013_02_21_construction_pearce

Pearce Murphy

Anthropology junior Alan Garcia and history senior Lorena Rios hold signs to demonstrate their support for an upcoming march organized by the Workers Defense Project on Wednesday afternoon.

Victor Hernandez-Jayme

Through a street-theater performance, UT students raised awareness of how Texas is one of the most dangerous states to build in. Construction-related deaths represent 20 percent of all work-related deaths and 84 people died the last year on record, 2011, according to the Texas Department of Insurance’s website. 

Representing injured construction workers by lying on the floor of the West Mall, UT students, volunteers at the Workers Defense Project, aimed to show support for the families of injured and deceased construction workers. 

“These issues go unaddressed, people don’t talk about them. Texas is also the only state that is not required to pay workers’ compensation for injuries,” history junior Lorena Rios Treviño said.

Students organized the protest to show support for new legislation that would provide statewide workers’ compensation. The Workers Defense Project will host a march to the state Capitol on Feb. 27 that will include speeches by legislators and family members of injured or deceased workers.

“In Texas, employers have the right to withhold workers’ compensation,” anthropology senior Allan Garcia said. “There’s this lack of communication in which the workers are not told that if injured, they’re on their own. That is why we are having our March on Feb. 27th. Legislative action would hold employers to be more accountable for their actions.”

Construction worker’s safety is also facing new challenges, because of the rapid growth of the industry in Texas.

“Austin, Dallas and San Antonio are among the 10 fastest growing cities in the nation and this rapid growth has allowed permissive safety standards to be implemented in the sake of profit,” Rios said.

Rios explained that one of the reasons workers operate in unsafe conditions is because they are a vulnerable group, mostly immigrants, who work with the fear of being fired or deported.

“Most of the workers are not insured, they are immigrant workers. Their work is being sold out to sub-contractors,” Rios said. “At the end of the day the big constructions firms that are hiring them are not responsible for the workers, because they sub-contract.”

Garcia said he wants statewide protection for construction workers in contrast to local city-mandated laws.

“Just last summer we held the vigil for a worker who died building bridges on 290 and 183, and he died of heat exhaustion,” Garcia said. “Although the City of Austin has an ordinance protecting workers, since he was working on a state site, there was no safety measurements put in place that could have prevented his death.”

Garcia said construction worker issues are relevant to students.

“As students we are all used to construction, we are used to new housing being built, we are used to walking around campus and seeing workers around us every day; but I think there is a need to be more interaction between us, more solidarity.”

Printed on Thursday, February 21, 2013 as: Protest contends worker deaths