Occupational Health News Roundup

In an excellent story about wage theft and unsafe conditions in the Texas construction industry, NPR's Wade Goodwyn observes, "working Texas construction is a good way to die while not making a good living."

Goodwyn notes that a Texas home might not cost the buyer much money -- a new 3,000 square-foot, five-bedroom home can be had for $160,000 -- but oftentimes that low price tag comes at a high cost for the workers who built it. The Austin-based Workers Defense Project co-authored a report with the University of Texas, Austin on Texas construction-industry working conditions, and their findings come from more than a year's worth of surveys of construction workers. Goodwyn cites several of the findings from the report, including:

  • 41% of workers reported being misclassified as subcontractors, which means their employers aren't paying the required Social Security or payroll taxes or abiding by the relevant wage-and-hour laws.
  • The Texas construction industry had 10.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2010, compared to rates of 5.2 in California and 8.8 in the US as a whole.
  • One out of every five Texas construction workers requires hospitalization for on-the-job injuries -- and because Texas is the only US state that doesn't require employers to carry workers' compensation insurance, the victims, hospitals, and taxpayers end up paying for much of that care.

Listen to the story to hear the voice of Christian Hurtado, whose father Angel, a roofer, died from falling 20 feet to a concrete floor. Christian's mother was also working at the site and saw her husband die. The subcontractor who hired Angel Hurtado told Christian that he'd pay for the funeral, but the family never saw him again and he didn't return their phone calls.

In other news:

NBC 10 Philadelphia: The Philadelphia City Council fell one vote short of overriding Mayor Michael Nutter's veto of paid sick leave legislation.

New York Times letter to the editor: A recent New York Times story highlighted the issue of occupational illness, which is insufficiently discussed given that an estimated 50,000 workers develop occupational illness each year. A proposed rule that would help prevent worker illnesses related to silica exposure has been stuck at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than two years.

MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry: Melissa Harris-Perry talks with panelists about poor working conditions among the country's growing low-wage workforce.

Guernica: "Congress and the courts have reached conflicting decisions on wage rules and protections for vulnerable temporary workers; nobody knows what happens next."

Washington Post's Wonkblog: Although Louisville player Kevin Ware suffered an awful leg injury during an NCAA tournament game, basketball is safer for male college athletes than many other sports.

India Today: Wal-Mart Stores Inc has announced a donation of $1.6 million toward a new Bangladesh training academy and new efforts to regain control over suppliers making its products. After a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh killed 112 people last year, Wal-Mart stated it was not aware that the factory had been producing the company's private-label clothing.

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