City Coun­cil to con­sider rest break or­di­nance

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Juan Castillo

The Austin City Coun­cil to­day will delve into reg­u­lat­ing work­ing con­di­tions in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try as it con­sid­ers an ap­par­ently ground­break­ing or­di­nance re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to give their em­ploy­ees reg­u­lar rest breaks.

But the pro­posal does not com­pel em­ploy­ers to pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter for con­struc­tion work­ers, a pro­vi­sion that had been sought by an Austin-based work­ers ad­vo­cacy group whose mem­bers staged a sym­bolic thirst strike out­side City Hall in June. Coun­cil Mem­ber Bill Spel­man’s of­fice said the city’s le­gal depart­ment de­ter­mined that the fed­eral Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Act al­ready has a wa­ter pro­vi­sion.

Spel­man, who spon­sored a June 24 res­o­lu­tion ask­ing the le­gal depart­ment to craft the or­di­nance, said it is a step to­ward im­prov­ing work­place con­di­tions for con­struc­tion work­ers.

“With Austin’s high tem­per­a­tures and hu­mid­ity, it is crit­i­cal to work­ers’ health and safety that they get a break ev­ery few hours to get out of the sun and drink some wa­ter,” he said in a state­ment.

The or­di­nance, which the coun­cil is sched­uled to vote on to­day, is the lat­est mile­stone in the City Coun­cil scru­tiny that be­gan af­ter the June 2009 deaths of three men in a scaf­fold­ing

Con­tin­ued from B col­lapse at a West Cam­pus high-rise. Weeks af­ter the deaths, a re­port by the Austin ad­vo­cacy group Work­ers De­fense Project found that four in 10 Austin con­struc­tion work­ers sur­veyed said their em­ployer did not give them breaks, and 27 per­cent said they were not pro­vided with drink­ing wa­ter. Con­struc­tion in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives dis­puted the re­port.

Work­ers De­fense Project Di­rec­tor Cristina Tz­intzún said the or­di­nance would help pro­tect work­ers’ lives.

Tz­intzún said that if the city or­di­nance passes, work­ers could use their rest breaks to drink wa­ter and seek shade to avoid heat ex­haus­tion and re­lated health risks.

Un­der terms of the or­di­nance, which amends the busi­ness reg­u­la­tion and per­mit re­quire­ments of the city code, em­ploy­ers would face max­i­mum fines of $500 for each day a vi­o­la­tion oc­curs.

Work­ers would be en­ti­tled to a rest break of at least 10 min­utes for ev­ery four hours worked, and no em­ployee would be re­quired to work more than 3½ hours with­out a break. Em­ploy­ees who work less than 3½ hours or spend more than half of their work time on indoor ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties would not be en­ti­tled to breaks.

The or­di­nance would also com­pel em­ploy­ers to post signs at con­struc­tion sites de­scrib­ing the break re­quire­ments in English and Span­ish. Spel­man’s of­fice said en­force­ment would be com­plaint-driven.

The na­tional AFL-CIO said last month that it was not aware of a na­tional, state or lo­cal prece­dent for a rest break law for con­struc­tion work­ers. Un­der state law, pri­vate sec­tor work­ers are not en­ti­tled to rest breaks, ac­cord­ing to the Texas Work­force Com­mis­sion.

The U.S. Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which en­forces laws on con­struc­tion site safety, does not ex­plic­itly re­quire rest breaks for con­struc­tion work­ers, though spokesman Michael Wald said work­ers are pro­tected from heat stress un­der the Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Act, which re­quires em­ploy­ers to pro­vide work­ing con­di­tions free from haz­ards caus­ing or likely to cause phys­i­cal harm.

Last month, Harry Savio, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion of Greater Austin, ques­tioned why a lo­cal or­di­nance is needed if the fed­eral govern­ment al­ready reg­u­lates con­struc­tion site safety.

Savio said it’s stan­dard prac­tice to pro­vide work­ers breaks when it’s con­ve­nient to the work sched­ule, and he ques­tioned the fair­ness of com­plaint­driven en­force­ment that he said could open the door to com­plaints from work­ers with an ax to grind.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.