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.

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

Workers who have been cheated out of their wages by unscrupulous employers in Houston are fighting back now that they have the tools to do so under the city's new wage theft ordinance. The city has received its first official complaints under the new law from some workers who say they were not receiving overtime pay that they are owed.

Via the Houston Chroncle's Lomi Kriel:

“Thirteen workers on Tuesday filed the first complaint under a new Houston ordinance aimed at preventing companies from stealing workers' wages.

“The workers, with the assistance of the nonprofit Faith and Justice Worker Center, filed documents with the city's inspector general alleging that their employer, Bradley Demolition and Construction, refused to pay them overtime. They say the company also failed to provide tax forms.   Read more » about First Wage Theft Complaints Filed Under Houston's New Law

On Tuesday, the Texas House will consider what more needs to be done on the issue of worker misclassification. Mike Beeter, President and CEO of BRI Roofing in Fort Worth is very concerned about the practice, which has been called a “cancer” in the construction industry. We are pleased to publish his open letter to the members of the committee looking into it.

Honorable members of the Texas House Committee on Business and Industry,

I am writing today as a business owner concerned about a serious challenge facing not only my industry, but society at large. The problem is so immense that it will not be fixed without ethical companies as well as government joining together to stop the fraud known simply as “worker misclassification.” I am very glad to see your committee is considering what to do about the problem. Below, you will see my thoughts as to the real risk associated with keeping the status quo. The issue is complex and I am providing you with many details to consider. But, the bottom line is that worker misclassification is fraud, plain and simple. Read more » about An open letter to Texas Lawmakers on Worker Misclassification

A Texas House Committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue of worker misclassification and what more the state may need to do to combat the problem that is particularly rampant in the construction industry.  The House Business and Industry Committee will take testimony on the implementation of a limited crackdown that was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry last year.  The hearing is slated for Tuesday, April 22 at the state capitol.

The official announcement of the public hearing says that the panel of lawmakers will be looking into “the issue of misclassifying employees as independent contractors on workers, employers, income tax withholding, and the unemployment insurance system.  And the review of current statutory deterrents, including those required by HB 2015.”  That bill just took effect on the first of this year.

As our readers are well aware, the practice of employee misclassification happens when companies pretend their workers are independent subcontractors when, by law, those workers should be properly classified as employees.   Read more » about Misclassification Hearing is Set in the Texas House

The problem of human trafficking in construction and other industries was on full display at the American Jewish Committee's Immigration Summit 3.0 on March 18 at Rice University in Houston.  The panel discussion – featuring Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Letty Ashworth from Delta Airlines and your humble correspondent – focused on what government and business leaders can do to combat the problem.

No matter how anyone spins it, comprehensive immigration reform is a huge part of the solution.  Law enforcement must be enabled to go after those who are actually doing harm to others and not the wider group of people whom many are mad at for being undocumented.

The people who end up as victims of human trafficking may not be who you think.  While there are far too many women and children caught up in the criminal enterprise, there are also very many men who are trafficked for their labor.   Read more » about Immigration Summit 3.0 Focuses on Human Trafficking in Houston [VIDEO]

Some lawmakers raised questions this week about whether school districts around Texas have the kind of resources they'll need to fully implement sweeping education reforms signed into law last year.  Starting this fall, students will have several new options for which path they'd like to take to earn a high school diploma.  But whether those kids and their parents will receive adequate guidance up front about their choices has become a point of contention.

The flexibility in graduation plans was part of a broader education reform package that got a “yes” vote from all of the 181 members of the Texas Legislature.   Read more » about More Resources May Be Needed For Texas Education Reforms to Work

While some believe education reforms passed by the Texas Legislature last year offer the right alternatives for students who may want to go to college or immediately enter a career, there are others who will push to make changes as soon as possible.  They'll get their chance over the next few weeks.  The Texas House and Senate have scheduled separate hearings for later this month and in April to take testimony on implementation of the sweeping education reforms that were signed into law by Governor Rick Perry under House Bill 5.

As we've told you, this is a bit of a “fight within the family” because the business community is not of one mind on this issue.  There are those who think the changes went much too far and relaxed standards in a way that will be detrimental to students and the future workforce.  Others, specifically those in the construction industry and other fields that need skilled workers, say students will now be afforded a broad range of options that will be mutually beneficial to those students as well as their future employers.   Read more » about Fight Over Education Reforms in Texas to Start Anew

The Construction Citizen team has long held the position that any good faith effort to try to close the skills gap in America should be welcomed with open arms. The players on this landscape are as politically diverse as Glenn Beck on the right and now President Obama and some of his supporters on the left. Naturally, any initiative proposed by any politician is going to be met with some skepticism. But if there’s a chance the federal government can aid employers in finding the kind of skilled workers they need – and therefore place those workers in jobs that better their families and communities – then we are encouraged to see it.

A push by the Obama Administration to reform the way the government engages in job training is underway, led by Vice President Joe Biden. His responsibility for overseeing this was announced during the State of the Union address, and since then has been met with a mix of skepticism as well as hope. The order signed by the president has been billed as an “across-the-board” reform review designed to make those programs more “job-driven”. Imagine that.   Read more » about Obama's Job Training Reform Met With a Mix of Hope and Skepticism