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  • Writer's pictureDavid Manes

Employee Rights of Racial Minority Construction Workers Are the Same As Every Other Construction Wor

minority construction worker leaning against a wall smiling

Employee Rights of Racial Minority Construction Workers Are the Same As Every Other Construction Worker in the USA

Racial minority construction workers account for a small number within the overarching construction industry. This means that construction workers of different races are particularly vulnerable to employment discrimination in hiring practices and job assignments. In an industry where the paycheck could be a high motivator for seeking a job, racial minorities feel unwelcomed.

Statistically, black, Hispanic, and other minorities are under-represented in the construction industry. Unions are no better, often revealing a larger gap in comparison to the percentages of minorities in the overall construction workforce. When minority workers are constantly facing employment discrimination with less opportunities and less consistent pay, construction remains a closed field to them. Those minorities who do work in the field often don’t know their employee rights and so don’t file for legal aid.

Speak with an employment lawyer today if certain circumstances at a construction job violate possible employee rights.

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How Many Minority Construction Workers Are There?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when any group becomes a majority that the minority might suffer certain difficulties. In light of this, the United States government always searches for ways to improve the working conditions of minorities. However, to accurately understand the majority and minority, it’s important to know the numbers.

When Can An Employer Sue An Employee?

Certain research reveals that for the construction industry, a large percentage of the workforce are non-U.S. citizens. The percentage bounces between 39-45 percent of the construction workforce. An industry originally established on the shoulders of non-U.S. citizens create a number of difficulties, whether safety related or otherwise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction employs a large number of individuals. In 2016, construction claimed over a million workers. Of that group, four separate categories are denoted, including women, Black, Asian, or Hispanic. Out of all the minority construction workers, Hispanic workers were the largest group at almost 30 percent. Meanwhile, black construction workers came in at almost 6 percent and Asian construction workers followed at almost 2 percent. With so few racial minorities represented in the construction industry, these groups are most often vulnerable to discrimination, stereotyping, and harassment.

What About Minorities in Unions?

Unions are known to provide certain protections and benefits to members. However, in the past, different ethnicities have been barred from admittance. In a push to close the racial wage gap by making better jobs available to minority construction workers, labor unions implement promises to admit more minorities to apprenticeship programs.

However, a glance around construction sites reveal that very few racial minorities are represented. In fact, statistics from around the country routinely see a big gap between the percentage of racial minorities in the workforce and the percentage of unionized construction workers. A comparison of the numbers in the past decade shows little to no change. Racial minorities are still underrepresented in labor unions in the United States and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia is once again trying to invite more racial minorities to join construction unions within the city. Mayor Kenney plans to launch a pre-apprenticeship program to revitalize community spaces. This idea is a good one, but labor unions need to be transparent with their numbers of incoming and graduating apprentices.

Racial Minorities in Construction Suffer More Injury

Minority construction workers are vulnerable to workplace injuries more often than majority groups in construction.  A study by the University of Southern California between 2006 and 2013 noted that foreign-born Hispanic males were most often injured while working. A close second were black workers and USA-born Hispanic men. Besides injuries, Hispanic construction workers continue to hold the highest fatality rate.

diverse group of people smiling

This injury discrepancy arises from a number of factors. Researchers suppose that a majority of injuries occur because management assigns minority construction workers to more dangerous tasks. Trying to evaluate whether this theory is true will be difficult, but it could help protect minority workers.  Another possibility is that many immigrant construction workers speak very little or no English. This language barrier means that minority construction workers don’t understand or miss the safety instructions, warnings, and training.

If the above reasons weren’t enough to explain the high percentage of racial minority workers who end up injured on the job, Hispanic workers also face different treatment in employment. Most Hispanic construction workers are labeled as “independent contractors,” which means that they receive no benefits or protections from their employers. Worse yet, Hispanic workers who are undocumented immigrants have even less access to work safety and employee rights. All of these factors leave Hispanic construction workers in a very vulnerable position.

Finally, construction companies might also be implementing discriminatory hiring  and promotion practices to find minority construction workers for particularly hazardous jobs. Between the language barrier and discrimination, racial minority workers deal with some serious safety concerns. And yet, many are probably unaware of their employee rights under the law.

Employee Rights for All Construction Workers

The government and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides certain employee rights to every employed worker. Every worker should know what rights an employer is obligated to offer to all employees. When these rights are violated in any way, the company should face legal repercussions.

Briefly, construction workers have the right to safe working conditions, fair labor practices, and information on health hazards. Constructions workers are also entitled to exercise the right to report when a company has failed in offering safe working conditions, fair labor practices, and health hazard information. Employers are required by law to provide these employee rights to all employees, regardless of race or sex.

What A Construction Company Should Offer To Every Construction Worker

OSHA obligates construction companies to protect employees. Some of it seems simple, such as providing a safe environment for working, while other things, such as a comprehensive hazard training program, requires more work. But the law is clear. Employees deserve safety.

Construction Employers must

Employee Rights

  1. Provide a safe workplace without recognized hazards

  2. Outfit employees with safe tools and equipment

  3. Inform employees of all OSHA safety and health standards

  4. Display the official OSHA poster that shares employee rights and employer responsibilities

  5. Create a program that explains safe container labeling, material data sheets, and training programs

  6. Train employees in a language they understand

  7. Inform employees where medical and exposure records are located

A Construction Worker can

  1. Review OSHA standards that an employer should be following

  2. Request that OSHA inspects the workplace for hazardous conditions or violations of OSHA standards

  3. Receive the results of the tests done in the workplace for hazardous materials

  4. Ask to have their names withheld from the employer if they request OSHA’s review of a facility

  5. File an OSHA complaint

  6. Be protected from employer retaliation in response to a filed OSHA complaint

  7. Review the company records of work-related injuries and illnesses

In the event that a construction company violates any of the above rights provided by OSHA, a construction worker may want to file a complaint with OSHA. Sometimes, contacting an employment lawyer provides more possible legal solutions to this problem. A lawyer knows what to do for every variation of a health and safety problem.

Lawsuits to Reconstruct the Perception of Minorities in Construction

Although it’s the small actions of everyday people that changes a culture, lawsuits often illuminate the magnitude of an ongoing problem. The employee rights of minority construction workers are overlooked routinely because companies can profit from the misery of these minorities. Filing a lawsuit in light of a real injustice obligates companies to radically change.

The EEOC Continues to Crack Down on Local 28

In 1971, a lawsuit was filed against Local 28 in the Southern District of New York for racial discrimination in hiring, promoting, and firing. The court ordered Local 28 to increase nonwhite membership. More recently, Local 28 faced a lawsuit for further racial discrimination, where white workers received the majority of jobs while nonwhite members struggled to make ends meet. The court has ordered Local 28 to reimburse minority workers with back pay for a period of 16 years. Many minority workers died waiting for his case to be finally settled. (EEOC v. Local 28, 2015)

Work Wage Lawsuit Settles for $8.5 Million

Latino non-union construction workers filed a lawsuit against Masco Contractor Services because managers failed to pay workers. These workers installed insulation, gutters, and fireplaces without pay. The settlement will reimburse all current and former employees for work done during a span of six years for the company. (Masco Contractor Services, 2009)

Although these examples of minority construction worker lawsuits represent major employment discrimination, other situations may be actionable under the law. However, minority construction workers must know employee rights so that they can recognize discrimination in the workplace. In Pennsylvania, an employment lawyer will recognize what situations are employment discrimination.

Welcoming and Training Minority Construction Workers

The OSHA outlines a number of ways to help train minority construction workers who speak little or no English. While many of these suggestions are practical, work and jobs are about network and relationship. Companies need to find ways to incorporate acceptance of working minorities into the construction culture.

1. Provide thorough instruction.

construction team on site

  1. Written and verbal safety instructions

  2. No shortcuts in the training material

2. Consider language barriers and reading levels.

  1. Display signs in the languages of all employees

  2. Don’t assume that everyone can read

  3. Use translation services

3. Learn about other cultures to help training.

4. Deliver instruction or information intentionally.

  1. Speak clearly and slowly

  2. Explain and repeat if necessary

  3. Avoid technical jargon

  4. Use visual aids

  5. Request demonstration of new skills

  6. Follow up on the job and performance

If you are a minority construction worker and have experienced employment discrimination of any type or sexual harassment, contact a employment attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or

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