Sunday, June 12, 2011

Builder of 21Rio Partners with Workers Defense Project to Protect Workers

It has been almost two years since three construction workers died while building the 21 Rio complex in West Campus. Now, the company that subcontracted some of that crew is partnering with the Workers Defense Project to raise awareness about employee safety. The three men who died at 21 Rio were employed by American Mast Climbers, a company subcontracted by Maxum Development. Investigators say faulty scaffolding led to the workers death in June of 2009. It's reported the crew was forced to work more than 60 a hours week applying stucco to the building, which is now an apartment complex."They not only worked long hours, but were forced to work in hazardous working conditions without workers compensation or rest breaks, Director of the Workers Defense Project, Christina Tzintzun, said. They were even illegally charged for their safety equipment."This past April, a judge forced the contractor to pay $15 million to the victims' families, and Maxum Development dropped American Mast Climbers from all of its projects. In addition, Maxum plans to improve communication at construction sites and increase safety inspections and training."We are trying to build a repertoire with the workers to make these projects flow better, safer and work better as a team," Gary Perkins with Maxum Development said. Maxum's Gary Perkins signed an agreement Thursday with Workers Defense Project, promising those construction site improvements."I think many construction workers that already work in Texas are sometimes even afraid to go out every day to do their jobs, Tzintzun said. I think we need an industry where people--at the end of each work day--know that they can go home safely to their families."As Austins skyline continues to change and urban development moves forward, the Workers Defense Project hopes other companies will follow Maxums lead.Last fall, Austin City Council adopted an ordinance requiring workers to take breaks every four hours. The mandate also requires contractors to have drinking water available on site.Construction rights advocates still say there is still much to tackle in terms of safety. Just this past Tuesday, a teenager was hospitalized after suffering a severe heat stroke on a construction site. He told investigators he did not take any breaks and was not drinking enough water.This is a ZGraphix Production.Produced for Austin Indymedia by Jeff Zavala.

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