Report Says South's Construction Boom Costly to Workers

The report points out that workplace injuries are common among these workers, fewer than half are offered medical insurance by their employers, and more than half earn less than $15 an hour despite having on average high levels of experience in the industry.

A new report titled "Build a Better South" from the Workers Defense Project, Partnership for Working Families, and the University of Illinois at Chicago sheds light on the working conditions for construction workers in six southern U.S. cities: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and Nashville. These cities are "engines of growth in the South and are home to some of the largest and most important construction markets in the U.S.," having together employed nearly 1 million construction workers in 2013, it says.

The report points out that workplace injuries are common among these workers, fewer than half are offered medical insurance by their employers, and more than half earn less than $15 an hour despite having on average high levels of experience in the industry. Thirty-six percent reported they struggle to pay for basics such as food and rent, it says.

The researchers surveyed 1,435 construction workers in the six cities, with 200-300 from each being surveyed. Participants were recruited on randomly selected commercial building, residential building, and heavy construction sites. And the researchers also conducted in-depth interviews with construction workers and employers to understand the challenges and opportunities in the southern construction market.

Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, of George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health and former OSHA assistant secretary during the Obama administration, wrote a foreword for the report. "Building a Better South reminds us that far too often construction workers across the South face working conditions that should not exist in the twenty-first century in the richest country in the world," he writes.

Michaels in the foreword calls the report "a call to action. We can no longer be silent knowing that our homes and commercial centers, our universities and hospitals, are built by men and women who work long hours but who can barely feed their families, who face dangerous working conditions daily with no recourse or compensation if they are injured, and whose labor rights are too often violated."

Dennis Donahou, vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Southern District, wrote an op-ed saying the report documents the most critical issues facing construction workers in major construction markets. "As the construction industry continues to grow in the South, now is the time for policymakers and industry leaders to ensure that all construction jobs offer family-supporting wages, benefits, and safe working conditions to the construction workers," he wrote, adding that the answer is to support the use of union professionals on southern construction projects."

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