Workers, allies call for safety measures

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Robin Drake, member of the Workers Defense Project holds a sign while Sen. Jose Rodríguez, D-El Paso, speaks. Construction workers from across Texas continue to call on legislators to end deadly working conditions.

Photo Credit: Lizzie Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Every two-and-a-half days a construction worker dies on the job in the United States, said a Workers Defense Project policy analyst at a rally Thursday at the Capitol.

More than 50 people celebrated Workers Memorial Day to remember the 138 people who died doing construction work in Texas in 2009 and to rally for policy changes to protect workers’ rights in hopes of lowering the number of worker deaths and injuries in the state.

“They build our houses; they build our churches; they build our universities,” said Emily Timm, policy analyst for the project. “As the end users of those buildings, we have a very important role in saying that this is what we expect [for] the people who are building our city.”

The rally participants hoped to encourage legislators to pass three bills to help ensure workers’ rights. One bill would require safety training on all state and government contracts — taxpayers’ money would go toward safety measures.

The second bill would require contractors to allow rest breaks because workers do not currently have the legal right to rest breaks. The final bill would require employers to provide compensation to families of workers who die on the job.

Sen. Jose Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who comes from a farmworker background, spoke in support of the bills.

“When [the Capitol] was being constructed, there were a number of workers that were killed right here in Austin building this beautiful building,” Rodríguez said.

He strongly advocated requiring 15-minute rest breaks for workers.

“That is not only the humane thing to do; it’s the safe thing to do,” Rodríguez said.

After falling off a ladder and breaking his wrist during a painting job in 2009, Fernando Adame had surgery, accumulated more than $11,000 in medical bills and could not work for four months.

His family struggled to make ends meet, and he did not have access to adequate medical care.

“I think it is important for us to be here today so people understand the problems so there are not more deaths and accidents on the job,” Adame said. “What I went through was extremely difficult, and my family suffered greatly. It shouldn’t happen to workers.”