Building Austin, building justice: Immigrant construction workers, precarious labor regimes and social citizenship.

Torres, Rebecca, Rich Heyman, Solange Munoz, Lauren Apgar, Emily Timm, Cristina Tzintzun, Charles R. Hale, John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, Shannon Speed, and Eric Tang.

Geoforum 45 (2013): 145-155.


Neoliberalization of the construction industry, in combination with Texas’ anti-labor climate, has resulted in “precarious employment regimes” in Austin’s construction industry. Austin is currently the second fastest-growing urban area in the United States and depends heavily on a Latino immigrant workforce to meet its construction demands. In 2009 a community-based worker center in Austin, Workers Defense Project (WDP), in collaboration with the University of Texas students and faculty, undertook one of the most extensive studies to date on the U.S. construction industry in order to better understand working conditions and to promote fair labor practices and legislation. The study took a participatory activist approach to research and included a survey of 312 construction workers, as well as 37 qualitative interviews with workers and construction industry leaders. Findings revealed an industry characterized by poor and dangerous working conditions, low and stolen wages, limited benefits and racialized divisions of labor, resulting in weakened social citizenship and exclusion. The study exposes the often unaccounted for social, economic and bodily costs of these precarious labor regimes on workers, families, employers and taxpayers. We conclude that the emergent spaces of activism and collective response carved out by immigrant civil society, in particular the worker center movement, are resulting in new forms of social citizenship that are empowering for immigrant workers.

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