Breaks for construction workers
The City Council is considering an ordinance requiring construction companies to give workers rest breaks. We need this ordinance.
As a University of Texas faculty member, I helped run a research project that surveyed 312 construction workers in Austin, the largest study of its kind. Using rigorous research procedures, we found that 41 percent of workers did not receive rest breaks; 27 percent did not even get drinking water. It is no wonder that a construction worker dies every 2.5 days in Texas.
Without a law requiring rest breaks, unscrupulous employers will continue pushing workers beyond safe limits. Many companies already give workers regular breaks; by passing an anti-exhaustion law, we ensure that unscrupulous employers do not gain unfair advantage.
City inspectors already visit construction sites. Adding rest breaks to their checklists will not unduly burden the city. Common sense and basic human dignity tell us we need this ordinance.
Rich heyman department of geography and the environment
university of texas firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: July 6 editorial “Laborers need effective protection.”
You suggest that the city would invite a challenge from the federal government if it passed an ordinance requiring employers to give workers short breaks to drink water and seek relief from extreme weather. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently confirmed in a meeting with city representatives that the proposed ordinance would not “run afoul” of OSHA because the agency does not regulate rest breaks. Under federal law, that leaves local governments free to adopt their own rules, and many local governments have done so.
Common sense might require rest breaks and water in our summer heat, but 41 percent of Austin construction workers surveyed by the Workers Defense Project do not receive rest breaks, and nearly one-third are not provided drinking water. The city can and should insist that Austin’s workers have enough time to drink the water that all employers must provide under federal law.
aLicia BuTLeR legal counsel, Worker’s defense Project email@example.com