Austin ISD school board considers whether to increase protections for construction workers
The Austin ISD Board of Trustees is expected to vote Thursday on a resolution that would increase protections for construction workers. The board is considering the measure ahead of the 2022 school bond election in November.
If voters approve AISD’s $2.44 billion package, there will be many new construction projects within the district. The resolution would ensure any entity awarded a contract for a bond project participates in a program such as Better BuilderⓇ, which requires safety training, living wages and workers’ compensation protections.
A coalition of workers’ rights groups have been advocating for AISD school board members to pass the resolution. One is the Southwest Laborers’ District Council of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Jeremy Hendricks, the group’s political director, said in an email that Austin ISD has lagged behind the City of Austin, Travis County and Austin Community College when it comes to creating safe conditions for construction workers.
“The passage of this resolution will put AISD on par with other local government entities who have declared protecting workers and establishing living wages as top priorities and part of our core community values,” he said.
Hendricks added one of the last times the Austin ISD school board approved significant benefits for construction workers was when it adopted the federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wage schedule in 2014. It helped, at the time, to raise wages for construction workers.
“Unfortunately, prevailing wages remain at poverty levels in Central Texas for many working in the construction field, including laborers, painters and carpenters,” he said.
Another organization that has been encouraging trustees to support the resolution is Workers Defense Project. Policy Director David Chincanchan said one of the most important parts of the measure is that it requires independent monitoring at construction sites. He said, without that, there is no way to ensure companies are sticking to the worker protections they committed to.
“The trustees are familiar with the [Better BuilderⓇ] program and the standards and they’ve seen it be really successful when other public entities have done this,” he said. “So, I think we’re really hopeful and optimistic that they’ll approve the resolution because I think they understand where the community is coming from.”
The head of a union representing Austin ISD employees also expects trustees to approve the worker protection resolution. Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said while worker protections were required for Austin ISD’s 2017 bond construction projects, the standards in this resolution are much more comprehensive.
“It’s such a robust and powerful package to make sure that the workers that do this great work are being respected and not being taken advantage of,” he said.