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Construction work: It can be high-risk, low pay

National Public Radio recently reported on the booming construction industry far from us in New York.

In Texas, the building business is big: one of every 13 Texas workers is employed in it. But though the construction industry is growing rapidly, that growth comes with costs paid for by workers who are often underpaid, and when injured, uninsured and on their own.

Of the nearly one million construction workers in Texas, about half are undocumented immigrants who have helped drive wages down and profits up, experts say.

The benefits of hiring undocumented workers can be plentiful: they will often work for less, without benefits such as workers' compensation insurance and health insurance, and if they are injured, they're reluctant to speak to authorities about unsafe work sites or safety violations.

NPR reports that "at the end of the week, construction workers sometimes walk away with $4 or $5 an hour, sometimes less, sometimes nothing."

Sometimes workers take no pay home because they are victims of wage theft by unscrupulous employers who count on undocumented immigrants to keep quiet.

A recent report co-authored by the University of Texas in Austin shows that workers who are cheated out of their wages keep working.

"Contractors dangle wages like bait from one week to another, paying just enough to keep everybody on the hook," according to a researcher.

These contractors are not just lone wolves scurrying from small job to small job. They are involved in "large commercial projects, even state and county projects," a researcher said.

Another frequent occurrence in the Texas construction business: the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

By misclassifying employees, employers can dodge workers' compensation insurance, Social Security taxes and other payroll taxes. For the unscrupulous contractor, they win at every turn.

It's another story entirely for an injured construction workers who wind up in emergency rooms with no insurance and no workers' comp on its way while they recuperate.

Source: NPR, "Construction Booming In Texas, But Many Workers Pay Dearly," April 10, 2013

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