Dallas Passes Mandatory Rest Breaks for Construction Workers

These guys are getting a break.
These guys are getting a break.

More than a year after worker's rights advocates and members of the Dallas City Council began pushing for it, the city of Dallas has guaranteed a 10-minute rest break every four hours for construction workers.

Throughout the winding process that led to the rest break ordinance being passed, proponents have accused those against breaks being guaranteed by the city of trying to stall, to "brief the ordinance to death," as council member Philip Kingston put it. 

Opponents of the ordinance, led by council members Lee Kleinman, Rickey Callahan and Mayor Mike Rawlings, have variously decried union involvement in drafting the ordinance, claimed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should be responsible for taking care of workers and said the ordinance was unnecessary and repetitive. Rawlings, who cast one of four votes against the ordinance Wednesday, promised that he would address any complaints from workers personally.

Wednesday, Kleinman suggested a compromise that would have seen the city resolve to support OSHA in preventing heat illness. The council turned down that idea without voting on it.

The version of the ordinance that finally passed was reworked over the summer by a group led by freshman City Council member Mark Clayton. It requires all construction work sites in the city to have signs about required breaks posted in English and Spanish and sets a fine of $500 a day for sites that are found to be violating the ordinance. The city's building inspection department will enforce the new rules during the normal inspection process and workers can call 311 to enforce violations.

Kingston called the costs of the new ordinance negligible earlier this month.

"You measure costs and benefits when you implement policy," Kingston says. "What are the costs? They're negligible. They're really negligible. We're talking about posting a notice and essentially having the enforcement be done by the workers themselves, making complaints. It's not going to be a flood. The construction industry continually tells us it's just a few bad apples out there [who don't allow breaks]. Well OK, then this is a very lightweight, cheap, workable way to eliminate those few bad apples."

The ordinance goes into effect January 1.

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