November 30, 2021

BREAKING: Harris County Commissioners Court Passes Nation’s First Essential Workers Board


November 30, 2021
Contact: Juan Benitez, (512) 466-9258,

Harris County becomes the first county in the country to ensure workers’ concerns are taken into account for workplace health and safety policies

HOUSTON, TX — On Tuesday November 30th, Harris County Commissioners took the historic vote to lead the country in establishing the Harris County Essential Workers Board (HCEWB), the first of its kind in the U.S. to be comprised entirely of frontline workers. The HCEWB will give workers a voice in determining workplace health and safety policies and set a strong standard for similar legislation around the country.

A large trend to emerge from the pandemic and current climate of labor uprisings is that worker governance is necessary to respond to future health and safety crises. As workers served on the frontlines, not only did our nation’s leaders fail time and again to keep essential workers safe, but they left workers out of the process when crafting the very policies supposed to protect them.

Led by Workers Defense Project, SEIU Texas, Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, United for Respect, We Dream in Black and Jobs With Justice, Harris County essential workers from various industries joined forces to establish a formal role for workers in reforming the health and safety standards that govern America’s essential businesses. No one knows what workers need more than workers, and this is a monumental leap forward for essential workers who are increasingly mobilizing to ensure they have a voice in the decision-making process for health and safety policies designed to protect them.

Coalition partners and essential workers in Harris County issued the following statements after today’s passage of the Harris County Essential Workers Board:

Laura Perez-Boston, Organizing Director, Workers Defense Project: “Essential workers—majority people of color, immigrants and working for employers who pay low wages with few if any benefits—have been on the frontlines and organizing for dignity and respect on the job. Here in Harris County, essential workers across multiple sectors dreamed up a vision where they have not just a seat at someone else’s table but their own table, and today workers in Harris County won. The Houston construction industry is one of the largest in the country and for too long construction workers have been burdened by failed policies that jeopardize their wellbeing in the deadliest construction industry in the country. Today is a monumental step forward to ensure that workers’ voices and their experiences are taken into account for policies that impact their health and safety.”

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Candido Batiz, Construction Worker & Member Leader, Workers Defense Project: “As an essential worker, the establishment of the Board means so much to me. Unlike many people in this country, I did not have the luxury of working from home during the pandemic. Having the Essential Workers Board is so crucial because it will protect the safety and well being of workers like me and the communities we live in. I have been working in the construction industry for many years and I’m happy to see workers like me are finally getting the recognition and dignity they deserve.”

Sharon Medina, Construction Worker & Member Leader, Workers Defense Project: “I along with others help build this country, we create the foundations all the way up to the ceilings of the large buildings you work in everyday so that the Texas economy can be strong and vibrant. And without us there is nothing. We receive celebratory praises of how we the workers are essential, we already know that. What we want are concrete actions that will actually change our material conditions.”

Mercedes Taylor, SEIU Texas Airport Leader: “The commissioners have an opportunity to give power to my voice. As a frontline worker I see firsthand the devastation that COVID has brought to my co-workers and their families. I see firsthand what happens when workers are cheated out of their wages, when safety precautions are not followed, or the right ones are not in place. This board will be a great step toward making workplaces safer, and more fair.”

Erica Smiley, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice: “For the past 20 months we’ve watched workers put themselves in harm’s way to allow us to survive this pandemic. Even as we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic, workers still lack the workplace protections they need to be safe and protected on the job. As a result, we’ve seen workers across the country rise up, take action, and demand change. We’re seeing that play out in many ways, but perhaps most notably in areas where workers can influence the health and safety practices of employers and industries through worker-led governance. The Essential Workers Board in Harris County will be the first of its kind in the United States, and will bring numerous Essential Worker sectors together to share common strategies and solutions to the myriad health and safety crises workers face in today’s world. This will be a tremendous victory for the Harris County community, for Texas, and can serve as a real inspiration for workers across the country!”

Miranda Salinas, Houston Walmart Worker & Leader, United for Respect: “Throughout the pandemic, I’ve gone to work and done my best for my customers while helping make record profits for my employer. I wish I could say that, in return, I could depend on Walmart to take good care of me — but that’s simply not true. Corporations like Walmart have time and again proven that they value profits over people, and I applaud our Harris County Commissioners for stepping up today to protect workers like me who’ve risked our lives to keep our communities running over the last eighteen months. No one knows what’s really happening on the COVID front lines better than essential workers. We need an Essential Worker Board in Harris County so that our expertise can help shape the policies that will keep us all safe. This is a monumental victory for essential workers and their families.”

Fernando Restrepo González, Fe y Justicia Worker Center: “This success is not measured in days or months for us, but in the lives of our workers. This worker board, first of its kind, could not happen without the blood, sweat and tears of the brave and dedicated labourers of Harris County. We are exuberant, jumping with joy even, because of the great leap forward in the inclusion and further democratization of the voices of those most affected by work related policies that is HCEWB. These workers were exposed and excluded from having their input in these policies. Now everyone in the county and nationally will acknowledge the necessity of these essential workers and the HCEWB! Congratulations Harris County, Congratulations essential workers.”

Irasema Castillo, Leader-Member, Fe y Justicia Worker Center: “Si llegamos a ganar primeramente Dios me daría muchísimo gusto por mi, y por muchísimas personas trabajadoras y esenciales que salen cada día a dar lo mejor de ell@s para poder llevar el sustento a su familia.. y mi emoción al ganar esta lucha sería para que se les dé a cada una de estos trabajadoras el lugar que les corresponde como trabajadoras”

Lauren Simmons, National Domestic Workers Alliance – We Dream in Black Houston: “This is a victory for workers and a testament to our collective power. We hope that this board not only serves our Harris County essential workers, but also acts as a catalyst for similar worker boards across the country. The pandemic exposed the lack of a safety net, economic insecurity and protections for low-wage workers, including domestic workers. We need concrete recovery efforts where domestic workers and other essential workers are centered in the solutions and this is a step in the direction. In order to adequately respond to our current and future public health crises, those most impacted, like essential workers, need to be at the table to shape the proactive solutions for their protections and for the health and safety of the broader public.”


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