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Dallas: SB 4 and Immigration Clamp-Down a Concern at Day of the Construction Worker

05/15/2017 12:41:00 pm | Viewed: 339

Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange

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Dallas County Judge Clay Akin addresses the crowd about SB 4 at RHCA's Day of the Construction Worker.

 

Posted: 5-15-2017, 2:08 p.m.

by Adolfo Pesquera

Dallas (Dallas County) - When construction workers gather to recognize their own for outstanding achievement, politics is normally at the fringes of polite conversation, but at this year’s Day of the Construction Worker celebration, politics was front and center.

As it does each year, the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association puts on a festive event to honor construction workers in five categories. Kicking off the opening remarks at the Saturday event, Dallas County Judge Clay Akin addressed a crowd of a few hundred rank-and-file construction workers and their families on the issue of SB 4, the so-called “show me your papers” law signed last week by Governor Greg Abbott.

The anti-sanctuary city law that goes into effect Sept. 1 allows police to ask people who have been detained to prove citizenship, and threatens law enforcement officials with criminal charges should they limit their cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Akin was clearly not having it and twice in his remarks called the lawmakers that sponsored or voted for the bill “stupid.” Akin tried to distance local government representatives from the bill and its intent, stating that it did not change what was in the hearts of Dallas officials.

“No stupid politician with a stupid law out of Austin is going to change that,” Akin said.

He tried to assure those present that the Dallas Sheriff’s Office would not tolerate ICE agents harassing the Hispanic community and pointed to the example of ICE agents trying to question children at public schools as a step beyond the pale.

Akin was not just addressing the workers and their families. Also present as special guests were the Consul General of Mexico in Dallas, Francisco de la Torre Galindo, and Jose Olvera Acevedo, a Mexican senator for the state of Zacatecas.

Galindo, whose father was an engineer that introduced him to the construction industry, also addressed the crowd. Referring to the hostility toward immigrants coming from Washington, Galindo pointed to the Dallas skyline to give the workers credit for their role in its evolution, and to rebut claims the Hispanics are criminals.

The Mexican government recently committed $50 million toward the defense of Mexicans in the United States that get detained for deportation. Galindo said Mexico stood ready to render aid.

 

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Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo also discussed SB 4. She noted that the law would not go into effect until late summer, and would likely be challenged in court before it had a chance of being implemented.

The event had the feel of a festival. Held on the campus of Mountain View College campus, visitors were treated to music and free food. They could browse the booths of sponsors, which included national contractor firms, local government agencies, and the D-FW affiliate of the Telemundo Spanish broadcasting network. Sponsors offered promotional products suitable for children such as toy construction helmets and safety glasses.

However, attendance was not as robust as in years past. RHCA President John Martinez said federal and state measures to clamp down on the undocumented was affecting attendance.

Martinez said the Day of the Construction Worker awards began to recognize the contributions they make to society, but a primary mission of the association is to promote and provide safety training.

 

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2017 Day of the Construction Worker Award Recipients:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Jose Garcia Sr./Andres Construction Services (far left)
  • Field Construction Worker of the Year: Manuel Soria/Archer Western Herzog (not present)
  • Superintendent of the Year: Juan Castro/Archer Western (not present)
  • Foreman of the Year: Sostenes Munoz/Omega Contracting Inc. (2nd from right)
  • Excellence in Safety Manager Award: Michael Barefoot/Webber LLC (right)
  • Excellence in Safety Worker Award: Camilo Rojas/Andres Construction Services (3rd from left)

Texas has the highest rate of fatalities and injuries on construction sites, followed by California and Florida, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hispanic construction laborers and craftsmen make up the majority workforce in those states.

A secondary function of the annual event is to provide a 5-hour on the job safety course during the event. Last year, more than 200 workers participated in the course. But this year there were only about 50, Martinez said.

He cited fear of ICE agents and the passage of SB 4 as the reasons for the attendance drop. The word in the community is that workers should avoid gathering in large organized groups where they could more easily be spotted.

Martinez said the RHCA will still be able to provide safety training to workers by meeting them in smaller groups on the job site, or at the association’s offices. However, he lamented that it is a shame not to have class in a college campus setting, where the learning environment is optimal.

The workforce community’s concern over the clamp-down on immigrants takes place in an industry that has already been struggling to fill positions. Several sponsors at the event have been struggling to meet their labor needs.

Freddie Galindo, a recruiter for Redi-Mix Concrete, said the company needs drivers, yardmen and loader operators. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has 21 fixed Redi-Mix plants and eight temporary portable plants. With all the construction occurring in the region, keeping enough workers is a constant struggle.

Redi-Mix Concrete recruiters Don Voight (left) and Freddie Galindo

Redi-Mix Concrete recruiters Don Voight (left) and Freddie Galindo.

 

He said there was also a shortage of Class A and B drivers in the San Antonio area. Galindo said drivers generally start at $17.50, depending on experience, and can earn up to $60,000 a year with overtime.

Likewise, Rachel Sackett at Southland Holdings (the parent company of five contracting companies involved in heavy infrastructure projects) said the company needed to hire more than 200 people today. Southland hires for many positions, including heavy equipment operators, project coordinators, and project managers.

 

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RHCA President John Martinez (center) poses with a mariachi troupe.

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adolfo@virtualbx.com


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Zoom Related Images
Award recipients, front row kneeling  from Right to Left: Mike Barefoot, Excellence in Safety Manager; Sostenes Munoz, Foreman of the Year; (the worker with black beard accepted for Manuel Soria who did not attend, Field Construction Worker of the Year);
Dallas County Judge Clay Akin at the podium speaks about SB 4 at Day of the Construction Worker.
Visitors mingle and visit sponsor boots at the RHCA's Day of the Construction Worker.
RHCA President John Martinez poses with a mariachi troupe.
Mariachis perform as nominees of the Day of the Construction Worker awards look on in the background.
Redi-Mix Concrete recruiters Don Voight (left) and Freddie Galindo.

Author Info
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Adolfo Pesquera
Reporter
adolfo@virtualbx.com

Adolfo Pesquera is a veteran news journalist. He has previously worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. He is a communications graduate of the University of Texas-PanAmerican.