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In Texas, Those Laying The Foundation May Pay The Price

Bill Jacobus

Five Stories that have North Texas Talking: The dangers of working construction in the Lone Star State, Texas gets scolded by locavores, late-blooming flowers could indicate epic foliage finale and more.

Texas’ $54 billion-per-year construction industry is getting a hard look, and the picture isn’t very flattering. The University of Texas has teamed up with the Workers Defense Project to dissect everything from wages to working conditions. What they’ve uncovered has a bleak bottom line; large, affordable homes in Texas are built on the backs of undocumented workers and hazardous practices.

The report finds that about half of the million or so construction workers in the Lone Star State are undocumented. Some are paid as little as $4 or $5 per hour and wage theft, or not paying workers at all, is also common. Texas also allows construction workers to be classified as independent contractors instead of employees. That means a boss doesn’t have to withhold taxes, pay overtime or workers’ compensation.

Turning to working conditions, more construction workers die in Texas than any other state, almost 11 deaths per 100,000 workers were reported in 2010. California’s rate is less than half that. Texas is also the only state in the nation without mandatory workers’ comp. Tomorrow on NPR’s Morning Edition reporter Wade Goodwyn will examine the Texas construction industry from the contractor’s perspective. [NPR]

  • Dead Last For Local Eats: Despite inventive restaurants popping up in the Metroplex that boast a loving relationship with area farmers, Texas claimed last place on Stroll’s 2013 Locavore Index, which ranks states in terms of commitment to local food.  The formula uses farmers markets, consumer-supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and food hubs in its per-capita comparison of consumers’ interest in eating local. Vermont won the top spot, followed by Maine and New Hampshire. Bottom feeding along with Texas were Florida, Louisiana and Arizona.

  • Richardson ISD Channels Sundance, For Free: Critics were buzzing about “The Big Picture,” a 2012 Sundance film about the complex web of dyslexia, so Richardson ISD decided to put on a free screener for parents and students. The film focuses on the science behind the disability, dispelling some of its myths and also turns the spotlight on celebrities who’ve worked their way through it. “The Big Picture”  plays tonight at 6 p.m. at the Richardson ISD Parent’s Choice Foundation Auditorium, 701 W. Beltline Road. [Dallas Morning News] Take a look at the trailer below.

  • And You Thought Spelling ‘Guetapens’ Was Hard: The brainiacs that compete in the National Spelling Bee have a brand new hurdle to jump this year… definitions. That’s right, this May, competitors don’t just have to accurately spell words like the tongue twister above, they also need to know what they mean; in this case ambush, snare, or trap. Scripps officials say the vocab bee won’t be televised onstage; it will be a computer based test that factors into the score. Do you think the new rules will challenge Plano ISD’s Chetan Reddy? He’s heading to the National Bee for the fourth straight year. [NPR]

  • Expect A Grand Wildflower Finale: Cooler weather may have delayed the peak of some Texas wildflowers, but experts say that might mean the best is yet to come. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, horticulturalists say there could be a late season bloom boom and the recent rain has done nothing but help. Speaking of flora, the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival starts April 20. The Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau is open seven days a week this month only to help bluebonnet seekers. [KUT]
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.