REBUILDING BRICK BY BRICK

The importance of a strong foundation in construction is undeniably the key to long-lasting, sturdy structures. It must be able to withstand the elements, continuously support the structure, and resist movement despite the fluctuating seasons. In a way, the US Hispanic Contractors Association served as a foundation to the construction industry in Austin and throughout the state of Texas. An unwavering source for all contractors and their families, the USHCA served to help the industry withstand the global health challenges, support the community, and resist demise despite the ever-fluctuating health climate. The USHCA preserved in its steady service to ensure that the Austin construction community not only weathered the storm, but emerged strong from the pandemic.

The initial impact of the pandemic threatened to shut down the industry, which would have resulted in thousands of workers left unemployed and projects pending completion and accumulating debts. The first battle for the industry was the fight to remain up and running. Through difficult conversations and persistent delegation from the board, the USHCA fought alongside with the community to communicate to our local and state leaders the importance of our work. Victory came as our voices were heard and construction was deemed essential. Much relief followed from workers who would have been left without a secure job and companies who avoided bankruptcy. Needless to say this was the first brick laid down towards seeing the industry through the pandemic.

With no real time to celebrate, the USHCA quickly realized guidelines needed to be set in place to keep workers safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 on sites. Working closely with the city, state, and OSHA, the USHCA helped create safety guidelines that included the necessary protocols. Procedures included everything from wearing masks to requiring wash stations on every site, to sanitizing equipment. Once the guidelines were created, an unforeseen issue surfaced; the lack of culturally relative informative material to the people that were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Numbers were rolling in highlighting Latinos as high-risk, yet there was a lack of resources and informative materials available in Spanish.

As a response, the USHCA put together a Creative Team to produce culturally relative, informative materials and made it their mission to lay the foundation deep for not only keeping the contractor on the construction site safe, but making sure that safety extended into their families. This led to the production of a series of video, audio, and visual materials, including flyers, illustrations, demonstrative videos, and animations. Everything that was created was informative, available in Spanish, and geared towards communicating specifically with the Latino community, transcending the imaginary borders of the construction industry. The association worked closely with the city to translate materials on a local and state level, as well as local radio and television stations to spread health awareness.

Many factors played into why the Hispanic population was being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Aside from being multigenerational households, the high rate of Latino employment in essential industries, the preexisting economic and health disparities, including lack of health insurance, high rates of chronic disease, poor access to health care services, there was also a lack of access to free PPE supplies. The USHCA partnered with local and state authorities to obtain PPE materials that would be distributed for free to our construction community. PPE supplies included face masks and sanitizer, as well as at-home tests when they became available. The materials were distributed not only to construction sites, but to families in need. Anyone who needed it had access to it through the association.

Although these socioeconomic disparities had existed long before the pandemic, they now presented life-threatening issues that needed to be addressed with a sense of urgency. A lack of internet and necessary technical skill to navigate the high-tech portals mandated by the City to obtain testing and vaccines, stood as a barrier for a portion of the Hispanic community. The USHCA responded by hosting an abundance of free, barrier free testing events, as well as barrier free vaccination events throughout the pandemic at various locations. These events were held at schools, construction sites, churches and other venues such as the Consulate of Mexico in Austin. These events were free, barrier free and open to the public, providing thousands of people access to free PPE, testing, and vaccinations. Through our events, which were designed to be free of the hassle from online pre-registration or language barriers, the Hispanic community strengthened its defense against the virus. Understanding our culture gave the association insight into how to successfully inform the Latino community about the events, and allow them to feel safe attending them.

If there is anything we have learned during this pandemic it is that coming together as one people has a major impact; how we respond as a community has a ripple effect on a global scale. The urgent nature of a global crisis propelled the USHCA to go beyond the scope of a traditionally defined construction association. When it came to keeping the community safe from the virus, the members and board of this association did not hesitate to extend its services to anyone in need. The USHCA would like to thank Governor Greg Abbott, Hays County Judge, Ruben Becerra, City of Austin Mayor, Steve Adler, City of Austin Council Member, Mackenzie Kelly,San Antonio State Representative, Liz Campos, Dallas Council Member, Omar Narvez and his Council Aide, Laura Cadena, Houston County Commissioner, Adrian Garcia, AISD superintendent, Dr. Elizalde and AISD health director, Alana Bejarano, as well as all our members and the board for their continued support and partnership throughout this process.

As an association, we have been at the forefront since the beginning of the pandemic, and now celebrate each brick that was laid down to bring us here now. After withstanding the storm, we finally get to witness a thriving construction industry once more, one built on a firm foundation and coming back stronger than ever.