When the private sector does not address a major issue, the public sector will often step into the vacuum and do it. The construction industry has been slow to embrace the principles of social responsibility and sustainable value, focusing instead on whatever it takes to be lowest bidder. As a consequence of this, government is adopting policies that reshape the rules for the industry.

The Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA) became effective on September 1, 2013.  Texas was the 48th state to adopt a version of the model Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

Texas businesses should welcome the consistency offered by TUTSA, since it brings our law in line with that of most other states (the exceptions are New York and Massachusetts).

The statute defines “trade secret” as: “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, process, financial data, or list of actual or potential customers or suppliers, that:

(A) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and   Read more » about Trade Secret Protection: New Law, Practical Issues

This past week, the Austin Chapter AGC Safety Committee visited with Marco Ramos, who was recently hired to enforce the City of Austin's rest break ordinance for construction workers.  Ramos discussed his new compliance role and said he proactively visits sites and also responds to complaints lodged via the City's 311 phone system.  Typically, the first thing he looks for on site is the required signage to be posted per the ordinance.  He also talks with workers about rest breaks and water availability.  He can issue citations for failure to post signage or allow breaks.  Ramos said there is good news in that he is seeing 90% and higher compliance thus far on Austin's commercial jobsites.

Since enactment of the rest break ordinance in 2010, the Austin AGC has consistently expressed concerns about the challenges of enforcement, however well-intentioned the ordinance may be.  The Austin AGC obviously and strongly supports rest breaks for workers, particularly in the extreme heat,   Read more » about AGC Safety Committee Visits with Austin City Rest Break Compliance Inspector

The Construction Citizen team has been tracking the progress of worker misclassification laws across the country, including the newly minted crackdown in Tennessee.  Elizabeth McPherson wrote about that when it was first passed last year.  Now we get word out of Nashville that a drywall contractor based in Music City has agreed to pay more than $300,000 in penalties for understating his payroll and misclassifying workers to avoid paying the required taxes and workers compensation insurance.   Read more » about Tennessee’s Worker Misclassification Crackdown is Already Making a Difference

Summer has arrived, and enthusiastic high school and college students are looking for summer internships.

Internships are not a problem if you are paying interns at least minimum wage, and are paying overtime hours (any hours worked over 40 in a work week) at one and one-half times their regular wage rate.

If you are considering unpaid internships, however, you may be exposing your company to a lawsuit.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, if you allow a person to perform services for you, in most instances that person must be paid and will be subject to minimum wage and overtime requirements.  There is a narrow exception for true unpaid internships, which must meet the following six criteria:   Read more » about Beware of Unpaid Internships

Texas’s capital city is economically booming in a way that’s almost unlike any other city in America, largely because of the region's technology industries.  Now, it is time for Austin to take the next step to ensure that the high-wage, high-tech economy also supports the creation of quality blue-collar jobs for working families.

That’s the argument laid out by Gregorio Casar, one of the “junkyard dogs” at the Workers Defense Project and now a candidate for Austin City Council.  He’s running for office at a chaotic time for Austin municipal elections now that the city has – as others have – moved to single-member districts that will allow each neighborhood to choose who represents them rather than having only at-large council members.  As many as six other candidates may be in the race with Casar before the vote this fall.   Read more » about Creation of Quality Construction Jobs Emerges as Issue in Austin Political Race

Editor’s note: In April, Professional Janitorial Services Executive Don Dyer delivered this powerful testimony to the Texas House Business and Industry Committee, which is studying what more lawmakers might need to do to combat the problem.  While we've repeatedly covered the issue and how it impacts construction, Dyer's testimony shed new light on just how prevalent this problem is in another industry.  Below, we're proud to share his testimony in full for our readers.

Our company has operated in the Texas janitorial industry since 1986 and we hold offices in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi.  In our 28 years of existence we have watched the Texas economy grow by leaps and bounds and have enjoyed considerable success as we grew from a small company with a handful of cleaners to now over 2500 janitorial employees.  We attribute our success with providing superior service to our clients and treating our employees in an ethical and respectable manner.  However, during this same time we have also seen an alarming trend in the janitorial industry regarding the misclassification and unethical treatment of employees. Read more » about Janitorial Services Executive Speaks Out Against Worker Misclassification

In a marathon hearing held by Texas lawmakers on the issues of workers’ compensation and worker misclassification, representatives from businesses and labor came together to talk about what could be done to level the playing field for ethical companies and improve the lives of middle-class Texans.  But, there was also significant pushback from certain business interests which would like to keep things as they are.

The House Business and Industry Committee listened to about six hours of testimony on both issues, which some would argue are inextricably linked.  The House is holding hearings on various issues right now in preparation for the next regular legislative session, which will begin in January of 2015.  The point is to help shape whatever legislation might be filed next year.   Read more » about Texas House Hearing Could Signal Big Changes Ahead for Misclassification and Workers' Comp

Another industry group is entering the private exchange game to deal with the complexities of the Affordable Care Act.  The Wichita Business Journal has noted that the Associated General Contractors of America and Willis North America, the global risk advisor, are developing a private exchange to offer defined contribution plans to companies in the industry who are working to comply with the fluid requirements of the ACA or Obamacare.

According to the announcement, “The AGC Alternative”, as it is currently named, will offer its members health benefits or employees at a lower cost, and they will incur less administrative costs as well.   Read more » about AGC and Willis Team to Provide a Private Exchange to Deal with Obamacare