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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Opinion

UH’s failure to act for Quad workers is embarrassing and shameful


Workers, students and professors gather to protest on campus for unpaid wages that eight construction workers have filed a complaint about. The workers report not being paid at least $43,000 from 2019 while working on the Quad Replacement project. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Workers, students and professors gather to protest on campus for unpaid wages that eight construction workers have filed a complaint about. The workers say they were not being paid at least $43,000 from 2019 while working on the Quad Replacement project. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Construction on the new dorms is well underway. However, a serious problem has come into the public eye. Workers are not being paid and they are not taking it sitting down anymore.

On Jan. 23 construction workers held a protest on campus demanding payment of the $43,000 in wages they were underpaid while working in 2019 on the Quad Replacement Project. While it is good students, faculty and workers are taking a stand, the indifference from the administration is alarming. This shows a lack of care, whether intentional or not, toward the workers they have contracted.

Several contractors working on the new dorms filed complaints about not receiving wages in November of last year. This resulted in a small group of protesters to attend the UH System Board of Regents meeting that month where they were eventually escorted out.

The most important leaders on campus were made well aware of this issue long ago.

Both of these protests involved the Workers Defense Project whose mission is to aid mistreated workers. It would be difficult to overstate how important and admirable their work has been in the last few years for workers. 

Samuel Cruz Carrasco speaks to the crowd of students and faculty gathered on Jan. 23 near the Quad construction site. Carrasco is one of eight contracted employees who filed a complaint for unpaid wages. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Samuel Cruz Carrasco speaks to the crowd of students and faculty gathered on Jan. 23 near the Quad construction site. Carrasco is one of eight contracted employees who filed a complaint about unpaid wages. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

In response to the outcry, the University issued a statement about the matter. They said Austin Commercial was the contractor employed by UH over the Quad Replacement Project and the University found no “identified no irregularities regarding prevailing labor rates and no issues on the part of UH” and would not take any further action.

The statement also suggests workers are better off talking to the Texas Workforce Commission or the U.S Department of Labor.

This blatant blame-shifting is just shy of the worst response UH could have given. Regardless of whether or not the University is responsible for this fiasco, their outright refusal to do anything to even mediate the situation comes off as a complete disregard for the well-being of employees on their campus.

The Workers Defense Project said in a tweet Texas’ prevailing wage statute covers their complaints and UH has not talked to the workers. The fact that they’ve refused to aid in any way, either by acting as a mediator in this situation or even meeting with the WDP and their representatives, is abysmal behavior on the school’s part. 

This situation has gotten so bad that it has drawn the attention of Elizabeth Warren, former UH professor and current presidential candidate, who made a tweet reprimanding the University for its decisions and letting it get to this point.

Considering how she has a history of ignoring UH, the fact she took the time to point this situation out and comment on it should make this situation even more embarrassing and shameful for the University’s administration. 

If I have not made it clear, the school’s stance on this situation is abhorrent. These workers are entitled to their wages and the University should ensure that any company they partner with is behaving ethically. 

If they took this opportunity to stand up for the little guy and defend the rights of these workers, it would have been a great moment to show the character of this school. However, their decision to bury their heads in the sand, blame another company and wait for it all to blow over has shown only indifference and callousness towards these workers.

It’s a sad time to be a Cougar.

Opinion writer Kyle Dishongh is a finance junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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