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Photo: Katie Edwards.

An Industry in Crisis: How Construction Career Collaborative is Trying To Do Right By Its Workers

The essay appears in Cite 98. The issue explores the intersections of finance and design. You can purchase the Cite 98 at local bookstores, including Brazos Bookstore and the shops at the Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can also subscribe.

Hermen Valdez realized that he wasn’t going to be able to afford to get back to Texas. His oldest son, a Houston native, was set to graduate from Baylor, and Valdez needed a plane ticket.

But he also needed to make payroll that month.

Valdez, who had moved away in the late 1980s from the recession in Houston to New England in search of more steady construction work, was an independent contractor, responsible for the salaries and insurance payments and taxes on a crew of about 20 general and skilled laborers.

He started working in the construction industry in high school. Before that, since he was 10, he had been helping his parents as a manual laborer. He grew up a few hundred miles southeast of Seattle, where his parents settled after emigrating from Mexico. When he graduated from high school in the late 1970s, he heard there were opportunities in Houston, then in one of its booms. Developers like Hines were financing big commercial projects Downtown, and the Medical Center was expanding. You could move to Houston, build buildings, start a family — and that’s what Valdez did.

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