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Monday, December 16, 2019

Administration

Workers on Quad project aren’t being paid fairly, says advocacy group


The Quad Replacement Project, which is set to be completed by the next academic year, began in early 2018 with the demolition of the original Quad buildings. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

The Quad Replacement Project, which is set to be completed by the next academic year, began in early 2018 with the demolition of the original Quadrangle buildings. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Construction workers at the Quad Replacement Project are saying they aren’t being paid at the prevailing or overtime rate, according to the advocacy group Workers Defense Project.  

The workers, employed by University contractor Austin Commercial, have been working since late 2018 to complete the Quad Replacement Project. 

“This is a form of wage theft. It’s part of construction worker’s everyday life,” said Chele Iglesias, an organizer for Workers Defense Project. “They want to get what they deserve — the pay they deserve.” 

Iglesias received a call on Oct. 10 from a laborer employed on the site about the payroll disparities. Since then, he has spoken with over 40 workers — something he said indicates the issue is not isolated to a handful of people. 

Austin Commercial did not respond to a request for comment. 

In response to the group’s claims, the University released a statement indicating they have begun an investigation into the allegations. 

“We have received the complaint regarding worker pay on the Quadrangle construction project and we are conducting a payroll audit to resolve any issues,” the statement said.

Iglesias said Austin Commercial, including its subcontractors, has committed to ensuring laborers on the site are not retaliated against for speaking out about the pay issues.

“What (workers) are concerned about right now is that there is no retaliation against them for standing up for their rights,” Iglesias said. “Workers are getting educated on how to defend themselves from retaliation.”

Last week during a UH System Board of Regents meeting, representatives from Workers Defense Project, as well as students, faculty and community supporters, distributed a petition to University officials and members of the public in attendance. 

“We are aware of a group of workers on the Quadrangle Housing Replacement construction project who are not earning the prevailing wages or overtime pay that they should be receiving,” said the letter signed by over 80 supporters. 

After speaking out about the pay discrepancies, the group was escorted from the meeting room by UHPD upon request by Chairman of the Board of Regents Tilman Fertitta for being out of order.

Fertitta could be heard saying, “I’m glad to see that not only my job sites have protesters,” after the group left the room. The chairman is the owner of Landry’s, Inc. and the Houston Rockets. 

The workers said they are not paid at the prevailing rate. These are pay rates, set by the government, contractors must adhere to when employing laborers on publicly-funded projects.

The Quad Replacement Project, which is set to be completed by the next academic year, began in early 2018 with the demolition of the original Quadrangle buildings. Austin Commcerical took over the site in Nov. 2018 after the University parted ways with the original contractor over a budgeting and scheduling disagreement.

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