Nashville is the most dangerous city in the South for construction workers, according to The Guardian. A study released last year found that basic safety precautions on job sites in the Music City were being overlooked due to a top-down culture of fear and abuse. That toxic environment led to 16 accidental deaths in the industry from 2016 to 2017, per OSHA records.
As one of the region’s fastest growing cities, over $13 billion has been poured into new construction over the last few years, and workplace safety is of top concern for Tennessee unions. The Guardian noted that half of those who died during that fateful two-year period were Latinos, a population that’s grown two-fold in the last 10 years, as high demand for construction workers has drawn migrant laborers to the area.
Safety advocates say that low wages—just $14 per hour—and widespread abuse have contributed to these unsafe labor conditions on job sites across the city. There’s a palpable fear amongst workers that they can be easily replaced, so they continue to cooperate despite the dangerous work. Eleven of the 16 workers who died in the last two years weren’t wearing a safety harness and fell from their postings.
Though it’s going to take a lot of effort to upgrade labor laws in a city with this much development, one piece of recent news has people hopeful. Two weeks ago, Nashville’s Major League Soccer team ownership signed a deal with Stand Up Nashville, a construction union-advocacy organization, to improve working conditions at the new 27,500-seat stadium designed by Populous.
The community benefits agreement will raise the minimum wage for all workers to $15.50 and consider the importance of awarding contracts to companies with strong workplace safety records. It will also include provisions for the build-out of nearby affordable housing.