This Labor Day Let's Rethink the Texas Miracle

08/29/2014 11:14 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Drive around the Lone Star State and signs of the "Texas Miracle" are hard to miss. Construction cranes and scaffolding remind us that the Texas economy is growing faster than that of almost any other state. We have all watched as Rick Perry received national acclaim for creating jobs by deregulating business and subsidizing corporations. This Labor Day we need to stop and examine what his policies have done for working families.

In our eagerness to praise Texas' economic growth, we have failed to engage in an honest conversation about the workers on the ground. Texas leads the nation in minimum wage job creation and is one of only two states that do not require employers to provide workers' compensation. For millions of workers the Texas Miracle has hardly been a blessing. Instead, deregulation has created a flood of dangerous, low-paying jobs.

I have been at Workers Defense Project for 10 years. Every day I meet workers who have experienced these problems first hand. Santiago Arias, husband and father of three, is just one example. In 2006, he was doing demolition on the roof of a building. His employer, against OSHA regulations, had failed to provide safety equipment to employees, so Santiago was pushing concrete decking off the roof without a safety harness. One afternoon he lost his balance and fell. He was left paralyzed from the chest down.

Yet for Santiago, the injury was just the beginning of an ongoing nightmare. Because his employer didn't provide workers' compensation, Santiago faced nearly one million dollars in unpaid hospital bills, a future of high cost care, and no possibility of employment. For his family, the fall meant a future of care taking. His wife now acts as his nurse: brushing his teeth, changing his clothing, and feeding him.

Santiago's story is not unique. One in five Texas construction workers reports being so seriously injured on the job that they required medical care. Very few Texas workers, especially in construction, have a safety net to fall back on. Despite Governor Perry's assurances that employers will do the right thing, only 40 percent of construction workers report workers compensation coverage. When laborers get hurt building our homes, offices, and roadways they are often left to fend for themselves.

We are facing a crisis. Deregulation has created a system in which workers are treated as disposable tools, easily replaced when they break. While the numbers may show job creation, the reality on the ground tells a story of individuals in dire situations.

We must stop telling ourselves that all it takes to succeed in our land of opportunity is some hard work and bravery. For the millions of men and women working full time and making poverty-level wages, tenacity isn't enough. For Santiago and his family, it only led to catastrophe.

We need policies that protect workers like Santiago. At Workers Defense Project we are fighting for rest breaks, safety regulations, and workers compensation here in Texas so that no more families will be abandoned when disaster hits. This is a starting point to create a culture that values people over profits.

This Labor Day let's open our eyes to what our economic policies are doing to the low-wage workers that build our economy. A real Texas miracle would be a system in which the workers who build our state have safe jobs and sufficient pay to support their families.