Fort Worth

Contractors line up to build Trump’s border wall, and may offer hazard pay

The Trump administration’s proposed wall along the United States’ border with Mexico could take many shapes. One example is this fence-like structure that already exists in Sunland Park, N.M., just outside El Paso.
The Trump administration’s proposed wall along the United States’ border with Mexico could take many shapes. One example is this fence-like structure that already exists in Sunland Park, N.M., just outside El Paso. EFE

Workers who take part in construction of a proposed wall along the border with Mexico could be offered “hazard pay” because of the extreme weather conditions they will likely endure and the possibility they will be greeted with hostility from those who don’t want the structure built, a prominent Fort Worth contractor said.

“There’s going to be hazard pay,” said Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, whose Penna Group is among the companies that have notified the federal government they wish to be vendors on the project. The deadline for companies to sign up is Tuesday.

Despite the possible risks, Evangelista-Ysasaga predicts there will be no shortage of workers for the project, which some other contractors have speculated could offer wages starting at $15 to $20 per hour or more.

Nationally, hourly construction wages are $28.42 per hour, a 3 percent increase from a year ago, according to Associated General Contractors data originally reported by Bloomberg. The federal government uses a law known as the Davis-Bacon Act to determine minimum wages for construction job sites in various regions of the U.S., and those wages are typically lower in Texas than in states with a stronger union presence.

But the unusual nature of the border wall project and a nationwide labor shortage brought on by the low unemployment rate could force contractors to sweeten the pay for workers along the border with a hazard stipend.

About half of the construction workers in Texas, and 14 percent nationwide, are undocumented immigrants, according to the Austin-based Workers Defense Project. With the wall project under high public scrutiny, contractors may face additional pressure to ensure they are not using undocumented workers, which would add to the labor shortage.

Hazard pay could be justified to offset the inherent dangers of working along the border, which can be punishing terrain in the summer heat. Also, Evangelista-Ysasaga suggested that drug cartels and others who wish to disrupt the project could fire gunshots in the direction of the wall construction to scare off workers.

To safeguard workers, security guards or U.S. Border Patrol agents may need to be present at construction sites, which could be 50 miles or more from the nearest city, he said.

“There will definitely be a lot of risks, including the heat, and being shot by hostiles,” Evangelista-Ysasaga said. “No question a lot of people are heavily invested in not seeing this wall being built, and they’re going to take shots at us.”

Evangelista-Ysasaga told KDFW Fox 4 that he has received death threats for showing interest in helping to build the border wall.

Companies lining up

As of Tuesday morning, 220 companies had signed up as interested vendors, including several companies in the Fort Worth area. In addition to Penna Group, JP Construction of Fort Worth is also registered on the list, which is maintained by the Federal Business Opportunities website.

Euless-based U.S. Concrete, one of the largest concrete providers in the nation, is not on the list. But the company’s outspoken chief executive, Bill Sandbrook, has said he wishes to be a supplier for the project.

In all, 25 companies nationwide that self-described themselves as Hispanic-owned are on the list — about 11.5 percent of all prospective vendors. Twenty-three of the companies are listed as women-owned, and five are owned by African-Americans.

Nearly half the vendors are located in states along the border, including 41 companies in Texas.

Unique project

Others suggested it could be difficult to find workers for the project.

Brian Turmail, spokesman for Associated General Contractors, noted that the wall would be a unique project and could require special construction expertise for workers more accustomed to typical residential and commercial contracting jobs.

“Our guys will ultimately find a way to get the job done, whether you pay people for more overtime and pay for more scheduling. But it will definitely be a challenge,” Turmail said. “Obviously, we have spent a lot of time working on finding qualified workers. We have a hard time finding folks.”

He also said contractors will face challenges getting supplies to remote sites, and finding lodging and other accommodations for workers.

Wages for border wall construction could be higher in southern California than in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas because of the calculations in the Davis-Bacon Act, Turmail said. He also said it is possible that hazard pay could be offered to sweeten salaries.

“It may be that contractors will pay more just because of the labor shortage or hardships involved with building the project,” he said.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson