Workers are getting help in Texas. The Workers Defense Project fights for back pay and workman’s compensation. It is one of the nation’s strongest advocates for immigrant workers. And it includes the most unprotected class: undocumented workers.
The Workers Defense Project focus is the Texas construction industry. More than 600,000 Texas workers are in construction. About half are unauthorized immigrants.
The Workers Defense Project is not a union. It does not bargain for its members in the way unions usually do, through contracts and seeking higher pay.
Construction trade unions are starting to take notice, and are coming around. So are some of the big associations of contractors in Texas. Labor observers are excited about a new model of doing business. Can advocacy associations take the place of unions or become unions over time?
The problems facing the Workers Defense Project are big. Many workers who are not documented are afraid to join for fear of being deported. There is such a high turnover rate in the jobs that enrolling new dues-paying members is difficult.
But there is optimism that a new way of doing business and protecting workers is coming. For example, the Workers Defense Project has used liens to stop the flow of money and supplies to projects. This forces owners of projects to pay the back pay owed to workers.
The Texas legislature passed a law that makes wage theft a criminal act. All over the nation, workers and politicians are trying to improve the wages and working conditions of low-wage workers.