Cardboard coffins lined Congress Avenue until all 138 of them filled the front lawn of the Texas Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
The coffins were painted black and represented the 138 Texas construction workers and laborers who lost their lives on the job in 2009. Their memories served as the rallying cry for the roughly 600 people who gathered at the Capitol in support of new legislation on workers’ rights and safety. The Workers Defense Project organized the rally and gathered lawmakers, clergy members and activists with the families of those who had died.
“The cause we’re here for today is not just a good one, but a sacred one,” one member of the church said at the beginning of the rally.
Political commentator Jim Hightower spoke at the rally to state the activists’ demands.
“We’re not just here to honor the memory of the workers,” Hightower said. “We’re here for just a little bit of justice. We’re not asking for the whole thing. If we were, we’d be asking for Wall Street salaries and benefits — now that would be justice.”
This justice comes primarily in the form of mandatory workers’ compensation, which would require every employer to provide wage replacement and medical benefits to any employee injured while on the job, said Billy Yates, an intern at the Workers Defense Project. As it stands, Texas is the only state that does not require such compensation, he said. He also cites simple things, such as required breaks, as important preventive measures.
“A construction worker dies every two-and-a-half days in Texas,” he said. “If Texas is 112 degrees during the summertime and workers don’t get a single break, you can’t really wonder why there are so many deaths in the construction industry.”
This lack of mandatory workers’ compensation, rest breaks in the work day and proper safety education all contribute to Texas’ reputation as “the most dangerous state in the union for construction workers,” a phrase that was repeated throughout the rally, Yates said.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, hope to change this. They are currently putting forth bills that would make workers’ compensation required for not only those injured on the job, but for the families who lost relatives in work-related incidents.
“It’s a simple bill in that it mandates that all businesses provide what every other business in every other state already provides, and that is compensation for workers,” Lucio said. “It is what’s just and it is what’s right.”
The event also included live music, prayers and stories of the hardships incurred by those injured on the job.
“When we are helping to build this state, we are wanted,” said one man, who is now confined to a wheelchair after falling 30 feet while working at a construction site. “But when we are injured, we are tossed aside.”
We have two new bills that have recently been filed and need the support of your local legislator. Please, use this link to find your state senator and representative: (http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us ) and ask your legislators to support...
HB 2196 / SB 1024 to prevent wage theft
Authors: Rep. Eddie Rodriguez & Sen. Jose Rodriguez
This bill will clarify the language in Texas Penal Code 31.04 (Theft of Service) which will enable local law enforcement to enforce the law against employers ; who do not pay their workers.
HB 1739 / SB 938 to provide workers compensation for all construction employees
Authors: Rep. Armando Walle & Sen. Eddie Lucio
This bill will require that workers compensation be provided for any and all construction employees in Texas; thus, reducing Texas' uncompensated care costs in hospitals, lowering property taxes, and lifting the burden off of taxpayers.
This is an Austin Indymedia & ZGraphix production.
Produced by Jeff Zavala.
Edited by Jeff Zavala & Matt Gossage.