Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Workers Defense Project Protest Gov. Rick Perry for Racists Remarks & Bad Politics

Gov. Rick Perry and employees within the state insurance building did not meet the typical sound of 5 p.m. traffic Wednesday.

Instead, some encountered signs adorned with criticism of Perrys policies, drums keeping protestors in rhythm and the voices of construction workers along with members of Austins Workers Defense Project and Californias Laborers International Union of North America chanting, Workers rights are under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!

Project Director Cristina Tzintzún said the defense group organized the event in response to a television interview Perry had at a Construction Expo in late June, in which he stated that [Texas] has enough oversight to keep our citizens safe.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the governors office, said the issues scope is wider than Texas alone.

This issue falls under federal jurisdiction and Governor Perry expects the federal government will fulfill its role to keep Texas construction workers safe without burdening Texas employers with duplicative regulations, Frazier said.

According to a recent report by the project titled Building Austin, Building Injustice, 142 construction workers died in Texas in 2007, which is more than any other state in the country. The report also states that 50 percent of workers do not receive overtime pay and that 41 percent go without a rest break.

Tzintzún said that only 77 Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators cover the 10 million workers in Texas. The project states that the International Labor Organization recommended 1,023 investigators be responsible for Texas workers.

Elizabeth Todd, OSHA acting regional director, said the administration will be increasing the number of inspectors in Texas.

We want to raise awareness and reduce the number of construction-related fatalities in the state because we do have a high number of construction-related fatalities, Todd said. If there are unsafe working conditions, we are going to try and go out there and find out.

Tzintzún said the problem lies in construction oversight.

We believe there is a larger problem in Texas of contractors not being held accountable for safe working conditions on the job site, Tzintzún said. Its important that [the Legislature] steps up to the plate by ensuring people dont die needlessly on the job.

The protest also focused on the West Campus construction accident in June at the 21 Rio apartment complex where three construction workers fell to their deaths as a result of a scaffold failure.

Austin Police Department Lt. Mark Spangler said APD obtained a search warrant to investigate the incident.

The areas we are looking at are, Did this accident have a genesis? Spangler said. What caused that equipment to fail? Was it mechanical? Was it human error? Was it an oversight? Thats the full spectrum of what we are looking at.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation and APD will conduct interviews as well as an examination of all equipment used in the scaffolding. The warrant stated negligent homicide as a possibility.

Randy Harris, a member of a laborers union from Illinois, said he was protesting to make the construction worker case a national issue.

Nobody deserves to be hurt or killed at work, Harris said. We want people to be able to go to work, feed their families and go home.

During the protest, a project coordinator handed out a letter to the governors office detailing the projects report. This is the second letter sent to the governor after Tzintzún's July 8 letter. She hopes the community, Perry and the Legislature are listening.

Construction worker Eric Jimenez attended the protest and said many of his fellow workers have been injured as a result of poor safety regulations.

Many of my co-workers have had many accidents in construction because there is no system of security or training to prevent the victims of accidents, Jimenez said. We want a day where rules will help in the insecurities in organization of construction.

Produced by Jeffry Zavala and Directed by Jason Cato.
This is a Z Graphix Production.

Cinematography by Jeffry Zavala
Photography by Charlie Lockwood & Jeffry Zavala

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