The Workers Defense Project student initiative held a remembrance ceremony Friday for three workers that fell from the 11th floor of the 21 Rio luxury apartments during the 2009 construction. Students demonstrated and solicited signatures for a petition to improve construction working conditions in Texas.
“We want to raise awareness on campus and within the student community,” said group outreach coordinator Katie Cullather. “Our emphasis is on safety training and worker autonomy.”
The performers shook bottles filled with rocks while they evoked the names of the fallen workers and recognized them as fathers, brothers and sons.
William Throop, director of project management and construction services for UT, said the University takes numerous measures to ensure the safety of construction workers on UT-funded projects.
“First and foremost, safety on the project is the responsibility of the contractor,” Throop said. “But the contracts we issue require that the contractors follow safety requirements. Furthermore, safety records are used as a basis for selecting contractors.”
Eric Slape, UT project safety coordinator, emphasized the importance of advanced planning, such as ensuring that workers have the right equipment and apparel, developing handbooks for safety guidelines and holding weekly meetings.
Slape said UT’s project management and construction services evaluated more than 250 projects on campus since 2009. The average safety performance rating is 92 percent.
The student group’s mission addresses not only Texas’ high rate of construction deaths — more than any other state in the country — but also wage theft.
Cullather said students who live in luxury complexes where contractors owe workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay should be more aware of workers’ rights issues.
Student volunteer Alma Buena said she was drawn to the cause because of her uncle’s experience in construction in Houston.
“He worked on a project for about three weeks,” Buena said. “When he was finished with the job, they told him he’d get paid, but he would wait and wait and nothing would come.”