Elected officials need to feel the heat, and in Texas, the feet being held to the fire are largely Republican.
But not all of them.
Some politicians, especially in our state’s largest urban areas, and specifically in Houston, are on the left of the policy spectrum, but still need lobbying to put progressive values into action. We forget that at the peril of our movement, and at the peril of people who rely upon government to protect them when private industry cannot or will not.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre spoke Monday in Houston at a panel discussion, Houston as a Welcoming City: Expanding Economic Options for Immigrant Workers, sponsored by the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and Neighborhood Centers-Baker Ripley.
After hearing stories of worker exploitation, Gebre reminded the audience that the injustices suffered by the panelists could not be pinned on the current president-elect.
Trump will give the left plenty of material, but we won’t be able to beat him unless we provide a powerful alternative and demonstrate how government is a critical part of a functioning democracy.
One panelist, Diana Ramirez, a Dallas-based organizer with the Worker’s Defense Project, laid out statistics that can support progressive activism for worker’s rights in Houston. A survey of non-union construction workers in Houston paints this picture of this community and the challenges they face:
- 80% of non-union construction workers were born in another country.
- 60% are monolingual Spanish speakers.
- One out of seven have experienced wage theft.
- More than 43% receive no benefits beyond pay as compensation for their labor.
- Only 36% of all construction workers in Houston are covered by worker’s compensation.
- 40% are misclassified as independent contractors.
- One in four reported having to stop work at least once because of heat, but 51% do not receive rest breaks to help them cope with the heat.
All of this is happening now, and it happened without Donald Trump.
We need to hold all politicians accountable for improving working conditions in hotels, in homes, on construction sites, in restaurants, in plants, and on loading docks.
Some politicians will not be our allies. We cannot let them off the hook for not supporting workers, and we must communicate clearly to voters when these elected officials vote against working people.
Some will be our allies. We have to find ways to support them, push them, and hold them accountable to the progressive values they espoused in campaigns.
Immigrants are a key part of the workforce that is literally building a stronger, more prosperous Houston. A broad progressive coalition, working hard and working together, has demonstrated it can elect city and countywide officials who represent tolerance and inclusion.
With these statistics in mind, some obvious steps we can ask our elected officials to take include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Mandate that contractors provide work breaks to protect workers from extreme weather. If Dallas can pass an ordinance doing this, Houston can (and should) do so.
- Help the construction industry crack down on worker misclassification, which puts workers at risk by depriving them of many workplace protections, and which impacts federal, state, and municipal tax revenues.
- Intensify enforcement of, and champion ways to strengthen, the wage theft ordinance passed in Houston in 2014.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and many industries benefit from the immigrant labor force.
To stay connected and learn more, Houstonians should support and consider becoming involved with the organizations that sponsored and contributed to the panel, which are at the forefront of advocacy for not just the immigrant work force, but for workers throughout the city:
- Fe y Justicia Workers Center
- Worker’s Defense Project
- Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation
- Neighborhood Centers – Baker Ripley