Con­struc­tion work­ers must get rest breaks, City Coun­cil says

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Marty Toohey

The Austin City Coun­cil told em­ploy­ers Thurs­day that they must al­low con­struc­tion work­ers to take rest breaks.

At its reg­u­lar meet­ing, the coun­cil unan­i­mously passed an ap­par­ently ground­break­ing or­di­nance re­quir­ing that con­struc­tion work­ers be granted a rest break of at least 10 min­utes for ev­ery four hours worked. It also man­dates that no con­struc­tion worker go for more than 31⁄2 hours with­out a break.

Em­ploy­ers will face fines of up to $500 for each day a vi­o­la­tion oc­curs.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Bi l l Spel­man’s of­fice said en­force­ment would be com­plaint-driven.

Greg Casar with the Austin­based Work­ers De­fense Project said the group re­ceives about a dozen calls a day from work­ers who say they ei­ther aren’t get­ting paid or are be­ing put in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions.

“This may be con­ve­nient” to ig­nore, Casar said, “but some­times the truth stares you in the face.”

Harry Savio, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Home­builders As­so­ci­a­tion of Greater Austin, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion did not

Con­tin­ued from B have enough time to scru­ti­nize the or­di­nance be­cause it was “hid­den on the agenda” in a sec­tion that he said made it dif­fi­cult to spot. He asked the coun­cil to de­lay its vote, say­ing that the penal­ties are too high and that the or­di­nance has tech­ni­cal flaws.

The City Coun­cil’s scru­tiny of worker safety is­sues be­gan af­ter the June 2009 deaths of three men in a scaf­fold­ing col­lapse at a West Cam­pus high­rise. Weeks af­ter the deaths, a re­port by the Work­ers De­fense Project found that four in 10 Austin con­struc­tion work­ers said in a sur­vey that their em­ployer did not give them breaks, and 27 per­cent said they were not pro­vided with drink­ing wa­ter. Con­struc­tion in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives dis­puted the re­port.

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.

Ri­cardo B. Brazz­iell

Con­struc­tion work­ers and sup­port­ers pushed for the break or­di­nance Thurs­day morn­ing in front of Austin City Hall.

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