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Texas Tribune Series: Few Protections For Workers In Texas 'Miracle' Economy

Todd Wiseman
The Texas Tribune
Workers help with construction of a building in Austin. Photo by Todd Wiseman.

State officials have touted the so-called Texas “miracle” economy and its boost in oil and gas and construction.

The Texas Tribune investigative series "Hurting For Work" found little protection for workers in those industries because of lax regulation. For instance, the lead author of the series, Jay Root, says Texas is the only state that allows employers to opt out of providing workers’ compensation coverage.

Investigative findings from the Texas Tribune series, "Hurting For Work":

Hurting For Work: A Disposable Workforce

Hurting For Work: No Safety Work

  • Texas stands alone in allowing employers to forgo workers’ comp insurance, and over 500,000 workers have no coverage if they are hurt or killed.
  • Texas doesn’t regulate private occupational insurance, which often provides fewer due process rights and stingier benefits than workers’ comp.
  • More than 90 percent of employers without workers’ comp flout a requirement that they notify the state of their opt-out status.
  • A quarter or more of employers without workers’ comp underreport lost-time injuries, recent audits suggest.
  • Major court decisions have eroded protections injured workers once had, including the right to sue certain employers who fire them for filing an injury claim.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of all workers’ comp claims were initially denied or disputed in whole or in part from 2008 to 2013.
  • Workers are losing far more major disputes with workers' comp insurers, and their margin of defeat has increased.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.