City Hall

Dallas Construction Worker Rest Ordinance Back for Round Three

This should not be hard. There is no reason the city of Dallas shouldn't or can't pass an ordinance that would ensure construction workers in the city get to take a break. Ten minutes every four hours, that's all that advocates have pushed for, and that's all that has been in the proposed ordinance that's been hanging around City Hall in one form or another since last winter.

The first time it was put off was last November. At the time, Stephanie Gharakhanian, policy director for the Workers Defense Project, suggested that members of the City Council who didn't want to upset business interests were stalling.

"[Dallas City Council members opposed to the ordinance] are trying to drag their feet. I think they're hoping we'll go away," Gharakhanian told the Observer. "This is an issue that really goes to the heart of questioning of dignity and respect for workers. And the hesitancy of council members to act on this should raise an issue with Dallas residents."

Guaranteed rest for workers never got a vote last year. In February, it swung around the horseshoe again, but was again put off. Council member Lee Kleinman cited union involvement in drafting the proposed ordinance as a potential violation of Texas right-to-work laws. Rickey Callahan said mandating breaks was unnecessary and repetitive. When he worked construction, he said, workers simply took breaks as needed, without having to ask for permission.

In September, the Workers Defense Project staged a "thirst strike" at Dallas City Hall, protesting the city's inaction on the ordinance in light of the death of Roendy Granillo, who died while working on a Melissa construction project in July.

"[The ordinance is important] because people get sick and die. I'm against workplace injury and death," council member Philip Kingston, who supports the ordinance, says. "[Opponents] are trying to brief it to death. They're trying to kill it."

Wednesday, the council will be briefed on the ordinance for the third time. Kingston is hopeful that some of the new blood on the council — six freshman have been elected since the first time the ordinance was briefed — will at least be enough to secure a vote on the ordinance.

"Maybe this all works out, but I just see a concerted effort to weaken or kill the ordinance," he says.

A vote is tentatively scheduled for December 9. 

"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."

Should the ordinance pass, it will go into effect January 1. 

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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