Will Texas Republican Legislators Finally Get Serious About Worker Misclassification?
For the past several years, the Republican-led Texas Legislature has failed to make significant progress in stopping the abuses of workers through unethical employment practices. Many businesses, particularly in the construction industry, carry on a practice of classifying workers as independent contractors when they are truly employees, according to existing law.
Lawmakers have attempted to bring bills to the floor to stop the practice of companies that cheat workers and taxpayers and game the system to obtain an unfair competitive business advantage over companies who follow the law. These bills have repeatedly died in various committees because of pressure from a relatively few, but very powerful, home builders who make millions by cheating.
This year, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has issued interim charges to the members to look at this issue and the issue of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when a company either doesn't pay workers for the hours they worked or they (because workers are misclassified) fail to pay overtime as directed by law.
In the Speaker's interim charges, dated January 31st of this year, Straus charged legislators to: "Examine the issue of misclassifying employees as independent contractors on workers, employers, income tax withholding, and the unemployment insurance system. Review current statutory deterrents, including those required by HB 2015 (83R), and make recommendations for changes if necessary."
Furthermore, he charged House members to "Study the impact of SB 1024 (82R) on wage theft and law enforcement's and regulatory agencies' responses to wage theft claims. Recommend changes if necessary."
Business and industry leaders have been calling for changes to these laws for years as has the Texas Workforce Commission.
Worker Misclassification is an important issue to address. It impacts several areas, including loss of tax revenue by cheating companies, increased healthcare costs due to companies not providing workman's compensation for misclassified workers, increased cost of welfare support for parents whose spouse chooses to hide in the underground economy of independent contractor labor and illegal immigration, where misclassification serves as a magnet for those who are not legally eligible to work as employees.
The abuses of employers in the area of illegal immigration clearly supports the need to develop a viable guest worker program quickly as called for in the Texas Republican Party Platform's Texas Solution.
During this primary season, you have an opportunity to put your legislators on notice and find out where they stand on this issue. Will you stand up against the home builder lobby and influence to add meaningful penalties to existing laws?
In a January, 2014 interview, Texas Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman said about this issue: "As the next Attorney General, I will be very vigilant and diligent in making sure that companies obey the rules. The AG doesn't write the rules, but we must enforce the rules, so we must enforce it fairly. And as a side part of that, as you accurately pointed out, the state is cheated from revenue by companies that inaccurately characterize their employees and moms that are on child support and dads that are on child support are also cheated out of that revenue stream that they need."
Senator Ken Paxton and Representative Dan Branch, who are also running for Attorney General, have no record in the Texas Legislature that can be found in relation to this issue and do not appear to have taken a stand on it. TexasGOPVote would welcome their input on this important issue.
Candidates are appearing in front of Republican and Tea Party organizations every day across Texas. This would be a good question for you to ask them to determine where they stand on the rule of law and unethical business practices.
Early Voting starts one week from Tuesday on February 18th. The Republican Primary will be held on March 4th. See you at the polls!