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Being Working Class in Texas Can Be a Death Sentence

This undated photo provided by Panda Bear Films/Latino Public Broadcasting shows stands outside a Dallas construction site. “Building the American Dream,” a new VOCES/PBS documentary scheduled to air on most PBS stations on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, examines the effects of this construction boom in the American Southwest on Latino workers by telling the stories of those erecting buildings in Texas. (Moyo Oyelola/Panda Bear Films/Latino Public Broadcasting via AP)

That Texas thinks workplace safety is something for weak libs is well-known. This is a state that ensures that workers have no rights and that workplaces are as unsafe as possible in order to ensure profit. One big area where this is true is construction. I wrote an academic review for a book on worker centers recently that focused pretty heavily on this issue of workplace safety among Latino immigrants in Texas, where the worker centers are pretty much the only organization giving workers any power to win even the most basic rights, and even that only in cities with relatively liberal governance such as Austin and Dallas. This American Prospect piece goes into working conditions for Latinos in the Texas construction industry in a good bit of detail and it is quite sobering.

TEXAS HAS LONG BEEN a dangerous place for all workers. From 2010 to 2019, it led the U.S. in the number of workplace deaths—5,171. In 2020, another 469 lives were lost there in workplace accidents.

In Texas, workers struggle with an unusual workers’ compensation system that leaves some workers without protection, and lets some companies set their own compensation rules. While employers have cut costs at workers’ expense, the state has been home to a construction boom with unchecked workplace dangers. An increasingly right-wing legislature has steadily refused to provide protections.

Texas topped the nation in 2020 with 221 deaths among Latino workers, followed by California (home to millions more Latinos than Texas) with 214, and Florida with 82. Texas has led the nation in Latinos’ workplace deaths for 13 out of the last 20 years.

As was the case throughout those years, nearly two-thirds of the Latinos who died on the job in 2020 in Texas were born outside the U.S. The data doesn’t tell us how many were undocumented.

One of the most deadly jobs for Latinos is construction, accounting for just over one-third of their workplace deaths nationally in 2020. In Texas, there were 129 construction deaths in 2020, the nation’s highest toll for construction workers. Latinos made up two-thirds of those who lost their lives on these construction jobs in Texas. Latinos account for about 39 percent of the state’s population, but make up more than half of the state’s construction job workers.

It’s a bad deal in a bad state governed by very bad people.

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