A new study has found that construction workers across the southern United States receive little to no employment benefits and have relatively low pay.
The Workers Defense Project report found that 40% of construction workers in Houston had no health insurance, retirement savings, paid vacations or sick leave. More than 30% were not offered breaks during the day and reported that their employer did not provide drinking water on the job. Only 5% of the 1,435 workers interviewed in six Southern states said workers’ compensation covered the cost of their work injuries, and 57% said they earned less than $15 an hour.
The results of this study reinforce the story of the “low road” business model that has taken root in the U.S. construction industry, particularly across the southern U.S. which has become predominantly right to work (for less). On one hand, contractors express their concern about a skilled-labor shortage, but on the other do little to address it in their business practices.
Across the nation, average hourly wages for American construction workers, adjusted for inflation, have been in decline since the late 1970s.
The Workers Defense Project report underscores the fact that, at least in the South, many companies aren’t making the necessary changes in compensation and workplace culture to be an attractive option for new entrants into the skilled construction trades. All too often, the short-sighted focus is to target labor as a place to cut costs in order to see a bigger profit or to win work as low bidders. This creates a race to the bottom which sees not only deteriorating jobsite conditions but also a substandard product once complete on many non-union sites.
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