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A two part news series on NPR by Wade Goodwyn displayed the Texas construction industry as harmful to itself and its workers.  Worker injury and death is much higher than the national average and twice California's average.  People are treated as disposable, with no repercussions.
Construction booming in Texas but many workers pay dearly.
Texas contractors say playing by the rules doesn't pay.
(One quibble- what they call "playing by the rules" I call "following the law".)

The reporter completely missed two natural followups: 1. How the GOP plays a part in this massive illegal tax evasion and exploitation of undocumented workers by an entire industry.  Texas government (i.e. Texas GOP) prides and promotes itself on how "business-friendly" it is, and how few regulations an industry has to follow.  Tax evasion and illegal employment (and exploitation) of undocumented workers cannot take place on an industry-wide scale without collusion by the state regulatory agencies.  The NPR reporter quoted or played recordings of construction company owners saying that for 15 or more years they have been hiring workers as "contractors" instead of employees in order to pay wages below industry norm, even below living wages, and as a way to evade paying Social Security and workers compensation insurance.  One owner said he did not believe his contractors paid taxes, and did not think more than a fraction were in the country legally.  No wonder he did not want his last name quoted- he was admitting on the radio to several felonies. (Want to bet how he votes? There is a better than 57% chance it is for the GOP. This is Texas, though, so in some counties it's much much higher.)

Texas is a "right to work" state, so the laws are deliberately lax, but it's even worse for 'contractors' than for employees.  The reporter touched on but did not elaborate on the fact that these 'contractors' got no other benefits as well- no overtime, no health insurance, no sick leave, no vacation time, no freaking nothing except for the right to be worked to death for subsistence wages, all so Texans can buy cheaper houses.

Furthermore, the GOP both promotes and benefits from this illegal activity.  The GOP blocks minimum wage increases.  The GOP blocks a path to citizenship- a path to paying taxes for both employees and employers.  The GOP keeps these workers "illegal" so the workers are afraid to make legal complaints about being exploited, and their families cannot take legal action for the people killed.  The GOP underfunds or actively cuts state and federal regulatory agencies, stopping from having the resources to raid businesses which break the law.  The GOP promotes and exploits the fear of undocumented workers, but their campaign contributors and voters actively exploit those same workers.  There is a lack of empathy in all of this exploitation which seems inhuman to me.

2. The Texas construction industry is coming to realize how they have trapped themselves into a bad situation.  Companies that "play by the rules", or rather "follow the law" cannot compete against companies that break the law.  On the other hand, the Texas GOP and the national GOP uses the natural consequences of this illegal activity.  It is more profitable in the short term to break the law by hiring people for below living wages and evading paying Social Security and worker's comp insurance.  However, this is shooting your society in the foot (or head) in the long term.  Social Security is going to run a deficit, and could sure use the payments being illegally evaded.  The economy is suffering because exploited people making less than a living wage cannot afford to spend money, so other industries cannot benefit from the 'multiplier effect'.  The people who build these houses could never afford to buy and live in one.  Wages which are spent feed other industries, and literally feed other families through their wages.  The NPR story discusses how working a career in construction in Texas used to provide a good living.  Now it's just a path to grinding poverty.  Instead of spending their wages in improving their family's lives, maybe even sending their children to college, these families are at the poverty-level.  Instead of paying taxes, do they collect food stamps, decreasing the states' coffers?  

Who really benefits from this situation?  The GOP does, because these are the core issues that get them elected.  Fear (and scorn) of the "illegal".  Fear (and scorn) of the "moocher" who takes but does not give.  Fear (and scorn) of the low wage worker who cannot make ends meet on minimum wage, never mind save for retirement and therefore will need "entitlements" like Social Security.  Hatred and scorn for people who do not have medical insurance (which these companies refuse to provide).  In reality, these "illegal" "takers" are hard workers who are underpaid.

If you're already rich, exploiting workers (or letting them die) for your personal gain, then maybe you don't care if Social Security fails or the state and federal budgets don't balance.  If you're in the other 99% of the population, you're screwed.  This is the natural result of GOP policy.

Originally posted to JerryNA on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 09:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There Is Another Diary On This Same Subject (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David54, MGross, Lujane

    I don't understand all of the surprise myself.

    (One quibble- what they call "playing by the rules" I call "following the law".)

    So, we should prosecute the contractors to the fullest extent of the law after we've spent more than twenty years now ignoring the fact that the illegal immigrants in question have been in many cases committing multiple counts of fraud, perjury, and in many cases what would be considered conspiracy and racketeering? (e.g. I 'rent' an illegal immigrant a valid Social Security number).

    The GOP blocks a path to citizenship- a path to paying taxes for both employees and employers.  The GOP keeps these workers "illegal" so the workers are afraid to make legal complaints about being exploited

    Who are 'these' workers? Are you talking about the workers that you would 'grant a path to citizenship' to today, or those workers who will enter the country illegally tomorrow?

    Granting legal status to illegal immigrants currently in the country illegally will not solve your problem, the problem was not created yesterday, the problem has as much to do with Democratic Party policies as it does Republican Party policies, and if you think it's only going on in TX come to Southern CA some time and take a look around.

    I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

    by superscalar on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 10:08:46 AM PDT

    •  When did I indicate surprise? (19+ / 0-)

      I'm not surprised- I'm disgusted.  I am pointing out the GOP hypocrisy of taking political advantage of problems their own party is aiding and abetting in a criminal sense.  Your saying "both sides do it" and "both sides are to blame" are deflections from the fact that the GOP both maintains and profits from the broken system by fear-mongering.  The Democrats do not.

      I did say that this problem has been going on for decades.  I never said this problem does not exist elsewhere.  I addressed an NPR article on Texas.  How is any of that a criticism of my diary? (Another deflection?) If you would like to write a diary about immigrant exploitation in Southern California or elsewhere, then you are free to do so.  

      Please do not  draw what you attribute to be my conclusions in the guise of asking your questions.  I have not proposed any solutions.  Since you have done so in your questions, I shall reply.

      Yes, we should prosecute employers who know they are hiring undocumented workers (illegal immigrants to you) which means most of these companies.  The employers are knowingly breaking the law at least as much as the employees.  That's the standard right wing response to all other crime...  oops, except for white collar CEO crime.  And oops, except for big employers caught hiring undocumanted workers (e.g. Tyson).  There would not be 1% of the undocumented workers in the U.S. if they couldn't get any jobs.  Right now, the employers get a slap on the wrist while the employees are deported, so the system is rigged in favor of the employers.  This way, the employers take advantage of employees or threaten to have them deported.  

      Either that, or we should fix the freaking system.  Acknowledge that we have and need immigrants.  Acknowledge they are human beings who deserve a living wage, protection of the laws, and safe working conditions.  People who want to deprive others of these things in order to make money are reprehensible hypocrites (and tend to vote GOP, but I repeat myself).

      We need comprehensive immigration reform.  The current system is ludicrous.  Paperwork is overly complicated, the rules are Byzantine, and there are too many subjective factors that slow or block people from getting through the system.  I did not want to get into it, but here you are.

      •  Oh yes, the other diary. (10+ / 0-)

        I saw it only after I wrote my piece.  In any event, we took somewhat different views of the article.  (Not opposing, just different.)  You did not bother to link to it, though you implicitly criticized me for writing a similar one.  

        By the way, this is not "my" problem.  This is a problem in my country.  This is everyone's problem, including yours.

      •  Ummm, Okay (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We need comprehensive immigration reform.

        'Comprehensive Immigration Reform', The Prequel

        Senator Charles Schumer Meet The Press 11/11/12

        David Gregory:

        Let me turn to lessons from this election and where we go beyond this negotiation over the fiscal matters, Senator Schumer, immigration, are we going to get comprehensive immigration reform it sounds like, if you listen to the House Speaker, they have a change of heart, they want a comprehensive plan.

        Senator Charles Schumer:

        Yeah, I think so, Senator Graham and I have, uuuh, talked, and we are resuming, uuuh, the talks that were broken off two years ago. We have put together a comprehensive detailed, uuuh, blueprint on immigration reform it had the real potential for bipartisan support based on the theory that most Americans are for legal immigration but very much against illegal immigration.

        Our plan, just to be quick does four things, first of all

        1.) Close the border, make sure that's shut

        Second, make sure that there is a

        2.) Non-forgeable document so that employers so that employers can tell who is legal and who is illegal and once they, uuuh, hire somebody illegally throw the book at 'em.

        Third, on, on, legal immigrate…, that'll stop illegal immigration in its tracks. Third, on legal immigration

        3.) Let in the people we need, whether they be engineers, uuuh, from our universities, foreign, or people to pick the crops

        And forth

        4.) A path to citizenship, that's fair [ed: important to remember here that the current family based system is 'unfair' ], which says you have to learn english, you have to go to the back of the line, you gotta' have a job, and, you can't, uuuh, commit crimes.

        Graham and I are talking to our colleagues about this, right now, and I think we have a darn good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year. The Republican Party has learned, that being anti-illegal imm … anti-immigrant, uuuh, doesn't work politically and they know it.

        * formatting mine

        4.) The 'tamper proof ID' that Senator Schumer proposes was part of 1986 IRCA (check the full text). Ask yourself here what is the real difference between a policy of 'self deportation' and a policy of 'go after the employers', and why the 'tamper proof ID' of the 1986 IRCA never materialized. Former Senator Alan Simpson (co author of the 1986 IRCA) has stated publicly that the Democratic Party spiked the requirement for the 'tamper proof ID' in committee before the legislation was passed.
        You will note that Chuck Schumer abandoned the 'tamper proof ID' of the 1986 IRCA like it was a hot potato.

        WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators working on a sweeping immigration bill will likely abandon the idea of a new high-tech ID card for workers because it's too expensive, a key negotiator said.

        That means their emerging legislation, which they've promised will crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, likely will seek to expand a little-used system criticized as error-prone and vulnerable to fraud that employers can use to check the legal status of workers, mainly using Social Security numbers.

        The system, called E-Verify, is now purely voluntary, and officials with labor and immigrants' rights groups say it would have to be greatly improved before being required nationally

        Right now, the employers get a slap on the wrist while the employees are deported, so the system is rigged in favor of the employers.

        And if I commit fraud and perjury and conspiracy and racketeering I get deported, and am perfectly free to do it all over again, so how is the 'system rigged in favor of the employers', and exactly how does one go about proving anybody at Tyson knowingly and with actual knowledge hired an illegal immigrant given that illegal immigrant presented that HR person with documents that even marginally appeared to be genuine?

        8 USC 1324

        (A) Any person who, during any 12-month period, knowingly hires for employment at least 10 individuals with actual knowledge that the individuals are aliens described in subparagraph (B) shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both.
        (B) An alien described in this subparagraph is an alien who—
        (i) is an unauthorized alien (as defined in section 1324a (h)(3) of this title), and
        (ii) has been brought into the United States in violation of this subsection.

        When did I indicate surprise?

        I suppose it's when you posted up this diary as though any of this was some sort of revelation, was new, or was news.

        I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

        by superscalar on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 11:27:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  2 questions (11+ / 0-)

          When did I change my name to Chuck Schumer?  

          In any event, I never said that all Democrats everywhere are pure and unsullied.  I said that the GOP is hypocritically basing their policies on something illegal that they condone.  You are not criticizing what I said- you are criticizing a different argument that you made up.  How is the GOP not wrong about this topic?  Address that, if you will, because the Democrats having screwed up visas and NAFTA is somewhat related but not the same topic.  Enough already, please.

          How many people at big companies who are repeat offenders have been indicted or convicted of 8 USC 1324 violations?  My guess is very few to zero.
          Quit with the technicalities.  I'll bet the HR people at Tysons were magically exempt from these laws because they did not "knowingly" hire undocumented workers... for the 4th or 6th or 8th time in a row.  I mentioned Tyson because their chicken slaughter factories were raided several times with no convictions that I know about.  The companies lost a few bucks in fines, maybe, but their overall profitability stayed high.  The workers got kicked out of the country, losing their homes, separating family members, causing real suffering. (The US is not supposed to keep illegal immigrants in jail indefinitely.  Illegal immigration is an administrative infraction, not a crime. That's not how the law is written.  Hiring illegally is a crime.) Don't pretend that deportation is painless or "getting away with" crime.  That's not equal enforcement.

        •  Enforce tax laws (3+ / 0-)

          There payroll deductions, social security, FICA etc. The legal status of an employee should not allow for the theft of his wages, which not paying taxes etc is.

          I thought all this crap was sort of settled by a US Supreme Court Justice at Nuernberg. Of course the German governments, East, West and now ONE have never paid all the back wages it's predecessor failed to pay.

  •  Wade Goodwin is fast becoming my favorite (10+ / 0-)

    NPR reporter.  He shines light on Crapsackistan bullshit (thanks, Hunter), and rubs their noses in it.

    More Wade, please.

    "And now we know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob." -- FDR

    by Mogolori on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 10:28:51 AM PDT

  •  At the time that I left the industry, the price (11+ / 0-)

    per square foot was dropping, and undocumented workers had moved from being mainly laborers on roofing and concrete crews to being subcontractors in the skilled trades and straw bosses.
    Undocumented workers pretty much insist on getting paid in cash on Fridays so they can wire most of their money home to Mexico. (I noticed recently that Walmart now does wire transfers).

    When I left there was another whole class of construction operator getting started: the "broker". These guys would come around to job sites and ask builders or framing contractors if they needed a framing crew, cornice crew, roofing crew or brickaying crew, etc. The crews would be 100% hispanic.
    There were no domestic workers, and at the end, I had begun having episodes of RSD, a disabling rheumatoid condition and I could no longer physically frame a house myself, so I had to find a hispanic crew to finish up for me.

    I haven't kept track of the industry since. I work alone on small projects when I can.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 10:35:58 AM PDT

  •  You'd think the business owners (11+ / 0-)

    would object to the degrading of construction worker skills, considering how that will affect their projects.

    Like the big Motiva refinery construction job in Port Arthur, to accomodate the incoming Tar Sands oil.

    Workers got killed on that job, including one poor soul crushed by a falling crane load that was not properly rigged.

    Then when they started the new refinery, the processes malfunctioned, and a caustic leak destroyed some of the equipment.

    But oh no, the owners are all about the low bid.  That's driving several low-ball tactics, including construction contractors who abuse the H2 Visa system and  import and exploit workers from Mexico, the Phillipines, and other low wage spots.  They'll claim there's no domestic welders available, sure, not at the $9/hour they're advertising.

    But that's been Texas' construction history for 80 years, and its been so institutionalized that a really crappy dangerous work site in known as a "Brown & Root" job, after the infamous, gigantic  Texas contractor later known as KBR.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 11:06:48 AM PDT

  •  It's both parties, not just the GOP (3+ / 0-)

    It's not fair to blame this situation entirely on the GOP.  Bill Clinton and Rahm Emanuel pushed through Nafta, and everyone knew that would crush American workers by sending our jobs to other countries, and forcing migrants from neighboring countries to come illegally to the U.S. to seek work, since their own jobs in Mexico would be destroyed.  

    But putting aside the issue of whether the migrants were legal or not, whether they are paid $5/hour or minimum wage, the most important lesson from this study is that when foreign labor floods the nation, it has the effect of crushing wages, eliminating benefits, and increasing unemployment for American workers.  That in turn further undermines local communities because the Americans who used to earn $50,000/year as construction workers are now working minimum wage at retail, and cannot afford to own a home or support local businesses.

    The liberals are also to blame for embracing the Republican claim that we need "comprehensive immigration reform."  We don't.  We just need to deal with the 11 million unauthorized migrants already here.  Pathway to citizenship for some, deportation for others, but solve that issue.  

    Instead, the new immigration policy being promoted by Obama and Schumer among others is primarily a win for corporations who will now be allowed to import millions more foreign workers to take American jobs.  Zuckerberg just announced he's forming a political group to "improve" immigration.  Think he's worried about migrants from Mexico?  No.  He wants to import all tech workers from India and Pakistan on h1b visas, because they can get away with paying them $12,000/year less than they would pay an American.

    The immigration issue is critical, but the focus on the unauthorized migrant is an error.  The focus needs to be on American workers.  Until our unemployment is down to tolerable levels, say 3%, no foreign labor should be allowed to move into our country and take American jobs.  Legal or not legal is irrelevant to the unemployed American.  And it is not liberal to give away your neighbor's job.

  •  Texas used to be great for unions - (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JerryNA, Dirtandiron, BlackSheep1

    You needed to be in the union to build scaffolding and forms for the refineries in southeast Texas, and building homes in the rest of Texas.  Not so much any more.  They're systematically dismantling the power of the unions through the right to work laws, and also taking down the 40 hour work week.  Lockheed and GD just went through union negotiations, and the unions got screwed.  

    Meanwhile these contractors are hired with no health insurance, no benefits, and if they are injured on the job, there's no compensation.  

    Then there's the minimum wage problem - so many people in Texas have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.  All this, and the GOP is trying to take down Planned Parenthood in Texas.  

    I don't get it - it's difficult to make new Republicans without women.  

    I see you drivin' 'round town with the girl I love / And I'm like / Please proceed, Governor. - Dave Itzkoff

    by Jensequitur on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 02:23:27 PM PDT

    •  I've worked for a junior college and a (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      viral, Dirtandiron

      State funded university as "contract labor." You pay both halves the FICA. If (like me) you make little enough, you get it all back at the end of the year, but the contribution still counts on your SS account.

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 08:50:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The 'contract' labor loophole is also (5+ / 0-)

    exploited by communications companies in regards to their line workers.

    Texas is a "right to work" state, so the laws are deliberately lax, but it's even worse for 'contractors' than for employees.  The reporter touched on but did not elaborate on the fact that these 'contractors' got no other benefits as well- no overtime, no health insurance, no sick leave, no vacation time, no freaking nothing except for the right to be worked to death for subsistence wages, all so Texans can buy cheaper houses
    I had an hourly job in a transmission shop and I was a 'contract' laborer. I wasn't paid per job as is industry standard. I was an hourly drone.

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 03:12:57 PM PDT

  •  Glad to see someone diary about this. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, JerryNA, viral

    I listened to part of it on my way into work this morning, and what I heard had me screaming obscenities at the radio.  Trevor or Travis or whatever his name was justifying his scummy practices with the elementary school refrain of "everybody else does it" just enraged me.

    I’m tired of sacrificing lives on the altar of the Second Amendment. - Mark Damico

    by Hastur on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 05:44:42 PM PDT

  •  Good diary. (7+ / 0-)

    I heard the piece this morning, and I think you've done a great analysis.  While that guy was talking, I kept thinking - "you're the problem here buddy".  And it takes government collusion to enable him.  He needs to go to jail, not the workers.

  •  Excellent Diary!!!! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hadrons, JerryNA

    One minor quibble.

    no freaking nothing except for the right to be worked to death for subsistence wages, all so Texans can buy cheaper houses.
    I don't think it's construction costs that sets the price of homes. I think it's the real estate market.  My home was built in the 1950s, it probably is worth 10 times more than the original owner paid, and no one remembers who built it, of how much they were paid.

    Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

    by Dirtandiron on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 06:38:19 PM PDT

    •  Yes and no, Dirtandiron. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlackSheep1, Kevskos, viral

      The market sets the price for home resales, but there has to be a minimum price for new homes based upon the actual cost of construction.  Otherwise, builders would slow down or go out of business.  That happened a few years ago when foreclosure sales dropped the bottom out of housing prices.

  •  I especially liked this part of your diary (10+ / 0-)
    Companies that "play by the rules", or rather "follow the law" cannot compete against companies that break the law.
    That's the thing that conservatives and libertarians don't get. They always trot out some strawman argument about how "all you liberals hate/envy the rich." No, that's not it. It's about how in a totally unregulated market, the unscrupulous employers drag down the good ones. You can work for the  best employer in the world.(or own the best company whatever the case may be)  But if they are competing against lowballers who won't even pay minimum wage, they're going to cut something to stay in business. It's called the "race to the bottom".

    Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

    by Dirtandiron on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 06:42:41 PM PDT

  •  In fairness to Contractors currently still working (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    viral, Oh Mary Oh

    in Texas, I'll say this: It's not an easy job. For the framing contractor, the goal is to take a stack of lumber and nail it together into a house.
    Like that.
    It's not a welcoming place for people who are worried about messing up their manicure or who are oriented toward pencil-pushing.
    In the evening, after a full day on a hot, curing, freshly poured slab in the baking Texas heat, or in 10 deg wind chill winds in the winter, it's hard to go home and have the energy to do a bunch of paperwork.

    The burden is even greater for undocumented aliens, who are indifferent or downright phobic about "documents" in the first place.

    Facilitating the accounting/documentation side of the job for subcontractors is actually a good opportunity for entrepeneurs, if our elected leaders decide to reform the system.
    It's also a way for the weakened trade unions to get back in the game in the right to work states. Find common cause with the subcontractors and offer them services and support.  

    The ones who are really profiting from the abuse and from the undocumented employment are the developers, bankers and big builders. They're the ones that created the system. Punishing the little guys won't fix the problem in the long run.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Apr 12, 2013 at 06:27:56 AM PDT

  •  I live in a new and expanding neighborhood (5+ / 0-)

    just outside Austin. We have lots of houses currently being built within a couple of blocks of our house. My wife and I frequently take walks around the neighborhood for exercise and take notice of the new construction. Almost all the workers doing the real labor are Latino. There are invariably loud radios blaring Tejano music (and sometimes the workers are singing long - usually badly). We frequently see these folks putting new roof beams in place, balancing and walking on top of the wall framing with no safety precautions. Just part of the job I guess. They toss bricks to each other with no gloves on. They move around on roofs firing nails from their nail gun rapidly. The danger that they are routinely exposed to is truly scary. I don't know how many of these guys get badly injured, but I'm sure that if they do they (and their families) are SOL.

    •  Nice how that might work (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JerryNA, viral, Dirtandiron, Oh Mary Oh

      The general contractor illegally misclassifies the workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Therefore, the employer doesn't have to maintain worker's compensation insurance. The "independent" contractor sure as hell doesn't carry their own insurance.

      So when a framer falls off of the roof they show up at the ER as just another uninsured person. Whereas, if they were legally employed worker's comp insurance would pay for medical expenses and lost wages. Society gets to pay those costs, instead of the person profiting from the labor of someone who was injured on the job.

      Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

      by Joe Bob on Fri Apr 12, 2013 at 11:12:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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