The spending that the United States Government has made to stimulate its economy has already had a strong impact in Latin American countries, particularly in Mexico and Central America. During the last 18 months, from the first check sent by the Donald Trump Administration to American families to alleviate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, remittances deposited by relatives have hit records in their receiving countries. Now, the $ 550 billion infrastructure plan approved by Congress has the potential to once again reach the portfolios of many Latin Americans through their working family members.
Authorized federal investments range from bridges and highways to broadband, water and power systems, and will be developed over the next five years. Construction employees of Latin American origin – with or without documents – will have job opportunities, analysts say, especially in the face of a job shortage in the US And, with this, come risks, they warn, since there are bad practices such as payment theft and wrongful death, especially in states like Texas, the second-largest population of Hispanic origin in the US.
“We are talking about one of the largest industries in Texas, worth billions of dollars, in which the result, specifically economically, is not really transferred to the workers,” says Ana González, director of construction policies at the non-organization. Government Workers Defense Action Fund. “At the same time, construction is one of the most dangerous industries for workers.”
Construction is the only industry in Texas that does not require workers’ compensation, a type of insurance that the employer pays to the state to cover medical expenses and wages while suffering a disability. One in five state workers suffers from wage theft – something that especially impacts the undocumented – and, of those five workers, three are victims of retaliation, González says.
“This means that if you are trying to get your wages back, your employer may threaten you with [denunciar] their immigration status ”, assures the specialist. “We see too many of these experiences that construction workers are suffering in the state of Texas, in addition to being the state with the most deaths of these workers and in which they suffer the most heat stroke. That basic protection of being able to be in the shade to drink a glass of water does not exist ”, he affirms. 70% of construction workers in Texas are immigrants and 50% of them are undocumented, according to data from the organization. “If you do not have knowledge of your rights and you do not know that, regardless of your immigration status, they have to pay you the minimum wage or what they promised you, it is very difficult to go to a government instance to defend yourself,” says González.
However, the labor standards and provisions required to receive federal funding as part of President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan are higher than what is required at the state level in Texas, says Karla Walter, director of employment policy. at the independent research center Center for American Progress. “This is really important because it ensures that the wages that contractors offer cannot undermine the market and pay poverty wages, they cannot violate the law,” he says.
Research by the center shows that construction workers of Latin American origin experience a 9-10% increase in their wages in states that have strong labor laws in place, for example. And the plan, as proposed by the White House, also includes provisions for social spending that would impact, if approved in Congress, millions of women workers of Latin American origin, Walter adds.
The plan, called Build Back Better, It includes, in addition to the infrastructure construction component, a large amount of funds for child care and home care workers. “Those workers are disproportionately Latina, that is, Latina women who are working, who have skills but are paid very low wages and here is a real opportunity to push the standards up,” says Walter.
To prevent violations of workers’ rights, the Biden federal government has increased resources to strengthen the agencies charged with ensuring compliance with labor laws, Walter says. “It will certainly be a huge job, as we spend all this money to make sure these standards are met,” he says.