Building the American Dream

Across Texas an unstoppable construction boom drives urban sprawl and luxury high-rises. Its dirty secret: abuse of immigrant labor. The film captures a turning point as a movement forms to fight widespread construction industry injustices. A story of courage, resilience and community, the film reveals shocking truths about the hardworking immigrants who build the American Dream.

AIRED: September 15, 2020 | 0:55:01




-The construction boom is creating

a huge demand for workers.

-More than 300,000 construction jobs

have generated across the nation.

-The sights of cranes looming overhead has become common.

-Texas has been trying to lurecompanies away from other states

with the promise of lower taxes and lighter regulation,

something people are calling the Texas miracle.

-Texas has no workers' compensation requirement,

and that really draws construction companies

and builders, developers into the area

because that's less overhead for them.

-Most construction workers in Texas do not receive

any health and safety training before they begin work,

and clearly that might be great for business,

but it's not good for workers.

-One in five construction workers in Texas

loses out to wage theft.

-A million construction workers labor across Texas.

Half of them are undocumented.

-Unsafe work conditions, and nobody's watching.

-A worker died today during a construction accident.

-Workers was crushed by a concrete slab.


-25-year-old Angel Garcia fell from the fourth level.

-Armando Juarez died at the scene.

-Jesus Chuy Moreno.

-Salvador Guillon.

-Juarez's family will have a funeral for him in Mexico,

which is where he's originally from.



[ Birds chirping ]

-She's a lover, so...

That's where it's all different personalities

in different ways.

This one, she's always doing something.

[ Speaking Spanish ]


-[ Speaking Spanish ]


[ Speaking Spanish ]


[ Horn honks ]

[ All speaking Spanish ]

[ Cheering ]

-The Workers Defense Project

is one of 225 worker centers nationwide

aiding many of the country's 22 million immigrant workers.

Reporter Steve Greenhouse called it "a union in spirit."

-The Workers Defense Project is one of the most

successful worker centers,

non-union worker advocacy groups, in the country.

And it's been very smart combining the models

of some other groups.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-They looked at the restaurant industry.

They looked at the dry cleaning industry.

They looked at the construction industry.

And they saw that a lot of workers

were really having a hard time.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]



[ Engine running ]

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

[ Spanish music playing on phone ]






[ Hammer pounding ]


[ Speaking Spanish ]






[ Hammer pounding ]

[ School bell ringing, children talking ]

-I pledge allegiance to the flag

of the United States of America,

and to the republic for which it stands,

one nation under God, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

-And now for the Texas pledge.

-Honor the Texas flag.

I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas,

one state under God, one and indivisible.

-We'll be celebrating Veterans Day,

and we will be having our second pep rally of the year.

We'll be looking for the most patriotic outfit.

Sixth graders, you will dress up in...

-I was born here, and my parents --

they weren't born here.

They came for me and my sister and my brother

and my other brother to have a good education,

because in Mexico, where they were from,

not everybody gets the same education.

Not everybody gets the same amount of food.

[ Laughs ]

Oh, oh, oh!

When I play basketball, I think about my brother.

He was the one that showed me how to play basketball.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]




[ Telephone ringing ]

-911. Where's your emergency?

-Ah, yes, uh, Hawthorne Lane.

-What's going on there?

-We're in a new neighborhood.

One of the workers, the Mexican workers, came over

and said one of his partners is extremely ill.

It's really hot. They've been working.

And he just asked me to please call.

-Okay, we'll get somebody out there.

-25-year-old Roendy Granillo of Haltom City

died July 19th.

He was working on a construction site in Melissa

but died at the hospital that evening.



-[ Speaking Spanish ]


-This morning, the brutal summer heat drags on in Texas.

-Gonna continue to feel like 105, 106 into tomorrow.

-It makes it squarely the hottest summer we've ever seen.

-Listen to your body,

and if you start to feel weak or dizzy, stop immediately.

[ Hammers pounding ]

-The Dallas City Council's gonna take a look

at a proposal to make rest breaks

for the construction workers mandatory.

-Yeah, it might seem rather surprising,

but right now there is nothing, no federal law,

no state law, that requires rest breaks for anyone.



-These are folks who work 10 hours

doing the hardest job you can possibly do,

and they're not afforded the basic rights of water.

-Yeah, I did construction, roofing,

and sometimes we didn't get water breaks.

And I noticed people having accidents,

falling off of two-story houses

because they were tired.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-...it stands, one nation under God,

indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

-Good afternoon.

Beginning on page three, you have the proposed ordinance

that is to adopt the rest-break ordinance

that requires a 10-minute rest break

for every four hours of work

performed on permitted construction sites.

-Thank you. Mr. Callahan?

-Yeah, thank you, Mayor,and I appreciate all the passion

that's gone behind this, but again,

it's just another piece of paper, another poster,

another requirement, and all for a feel-good, mind you.

"Hey, man, we got that done. Check.

Let's come up with a new work rule next year.

Won't that be fun?"

If you know you think you got a boom now, Mayor,

you know, we could really have a boom here

if we just simply streamline that.

But quit telling business no.

Quit telling them no.

Let the federal government be the arbiter

when it comes down to rules and regulations.

Thank you.

-Mr. Clayton.

-The reality of it is this is coming up from the ground up

of people who were in the construction business

saying, "This is a problem."

You know, the data that we're getting anecdotally is,

you know, one out of three people who are in this business

are saying they are not getting breaks.

-Mr. Kleinman.

-This group is a bunch of charlatans coming in here

posing for the unions

in a in a right-to-work state,

and the fact of the matter is limiting people's right to work

is bad for workers, too.

It just -- I just --

I'm just always very frustrated when this council

is not making decisions based on facts.

And I don't see any reason to even bring this forward

to council for for consideration.

Thank you.

-Thank you. Mr. Kingston?

-The data that I'm relying on is Roendy Granillo, who's dead.

I've got data from from the Agape Clinic in East Dallas

that averages one heat-relat-- heat-illness-related complaint

a week during the summer.

I think that's pretty good data.

People who are coming here are, by and large,

disadvantaged Hispanics.

Protecting their physical well-being

is about the least we can do.

-I heard of the death this morning,

which is very poignant and must --

I mean, it just breaks your heart that you lose a son.

And it makes me very upset to think there are people

that are not working in a safe environment.

I also don't want to lie to people.

I wish we had the power by making -- to make

those individuals' lives better.

It's just not true.

-Thank you. Next item. Let's take the next item.

-Our next briefing is in regards to

the Complete Streets initiative and design manual

that's associated with it.

Jill is going to be running through that very quickly.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

[ Engine running ]

[ Vehicle beeping ]



-Census Bureau says the Dallas-Fort Worth area

is the fastest-growing area in the entire country,

-We're booming by more than 300 people a day.

-What Texas works on is trying to reduce regulations

and provide a hospitable environment for businesses,

because when businesses succeed in Texas,

Texas will succeed.

-Texas, in many respects, is the Wild West.

We know that one in five workers in the construction industry

are subject to a workplace injury or fatality,

and so that's really indicative of the lack of oversight

and the lack of requirements for the industry.

-Texas boasts that, you know, this is a good place

for folks to invest in because unions are weak,

because we hate regulations in Texas.

Texas would not have this very high fatality rate

for construction workers if there were more inspections,

if companies felt more pressured

to watch for what's good for their workers.

-The penalties for violating the law

are so low that unscrupulous employers,

employers who don't want to play by the rules,

just figure it into the cost of doing business.

-For many of these low-road employers,

they know that if they hire undocumented workers

and that worker is hurt,

they're gonna disappear.

Their family pays the cost.

It doesn't cost the employer anything.

[ Indistinct talking in background ]

-Morning, men. -Hello.

How's everybody? What class is this?

-Is our safety advisors...

-Safety advisors. -...weekly meeting, yes.

-And these are all our safety advisors?

-Yes. -All but one.

-All but one.

And these guys know safety better than anybody.

And I think that's extremely important.

I'm very proud of each one of you.

And we're gonna fix this immigration mess.

Any of you got undocumented friends?

-Perhaps. -[ Laughs ] "Perhaps."

[ Laughter ]

We're a companythat's been around for 78 years.

Safety is number one.

We want everybody to go home the way they came to work.

Overall, the industry is facing severe labor shortage.

We need 100 men. We can't find them.

We have to go to a labor broker

who very well may not be doing it right.

But as long as he's in business, I can hire someone like that.

Well, how you doing, man?

You doing okay? -Yeah.

-It's good to see you. -Yeah.

-How many years you been with us?

Come on, ask him -- -[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Four months. -Four months.

Oh, you just started then, yeah. Well, good.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Ah, okay. -Yeah.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Good to see you, sir.

-She's strong, she's strong.

Her husband works for us, too, right?

-Yes, sir, he does. -That's good.

There's so many people that want to come here for the work,

and there's no enforcement to speak of.

They're abusing workers and taking advantage of the system.

If you're an undocumented worker and you don't like something,

if you don't get paid, what are you gonna do?

go to the police? No.

[ Machine beeping ]

Got room? Let's do it, guys.

-Hold on. [ Speaks indistinctly ]

-I'm not real popular many times in our industry

because I sort of call it like it is.

But what we have today is not sustainable.

[ Both speaking Spanish ]


[ Saw buzzing ]

[ Indistinct talking ]

-[ Singing in Spanish ]

-It's not easy, but when it comes to sharing his story,

I'm definitely down for that because not everybody knows

about him and what happened to him.

But I realize there's a lot of people

that went through the same thing as him.


-In Austin's building boom, a victim --

28-year-old Ramiro Loa fell three stories to his death

from the Eastside Station apartments.

His brother was by his side at the time.

[ Chanting and singing in Spanish ]

-I did reach out to the developer of the project,

Flournoy Properties, and was told no comment.


[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheering ]

[ Chanting in Spanish ]

-[ Singing Spanish ]



[ Applause ]

[ Laughter ]

[ Applause ]

[ Children shouting excitedly ]

-I made it!

[ Shouting continues ]

-[ Singing in Spanish ]

[ Indistinct talking and laughter ]

[ Singing in Spanish ]

[ Children shrieking ]

[ Chanting in Spanish ]

[ Laughter ]







-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Mm-hmm. -Okay.

[ Speaking Spanish ] -Mm-hmm.

[ Both speaking indistinctly ]

[ Zipper zipping ]

[ Chiming ]

Ah? Hmm?








-Hopefully they want to make the law.

I -- I -- yeah.

I'm gonna say that...mm...

we're gonna...

we're not gonna stop until we get the law in.

Well, I'm here to represent my mom and dad and...

[whispering] stuff like that.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

[ Engine starts ]


[ Indistinct talking ]

-Hi. -Hi. How are you?

-Good morning. -Good morning.

-Today we -- today we're gonna do good.

If you need anything, let me know.

I'll be inside. -Okay.

-Thank you. -Thank you.

-What are you gonna tell the council?

What are you going to say?

-I want the workers to say, "Hey, I'm tired.

I want to take a rest break."

-Do you think that would have helped your brother?

-Yeah, a lot.


-I'm rolling, whenever you're ready.


-Putting an additional burden on businesses

in the city of Dallas

just means they'll take their business elsewhere,

and then that's bad for all workers

because then they don't have jobs in Dallas.

I think that's at the discretion of the contractor.

I don't think that's a -- the demand of the city.

-Got it.

[ Indistinct talking ]

-Thank you. We're gonna move at the mayor's request

to addendum item number four right now,

and that is an ordinance authorizing amendment

to provide construction workers

with a 10-minute rest break for every four hours.

We do have four registered speaker--

five registered speakers on that item.

-Good morning. My name is John Corker.

I'm an emergency medicine physician here in Dallas,

and unfortunately, there has been a disproportionate amount

of heat-related illness in a city like Dallas.

For every one that's lost their lives,

there's been dozens of others

who have had accidents that were later found to be

due in large part to heat-related illness.

-Jasmine Granillo.

-I'm the sisterof a fallen construction worker.

No family should experience the loss we went through.

You have the power to protectthe workers who built this city.

My other brother and my dad

are still working in construction,

and I don't want to believethat what happened to my brother

can happen to them.

Thank you.

-Move to approve. -Second.

-The motion is seconded. Mr. Kleinman?

-Colleagues, I've circulated at your desk

a compromise to vote against the ordinance

so that we can have an honest,clear discussion of a compromise

that I think we can all get behind.

Please vote.

-I'm sorry. One moment. You want record vote?

-Yes, record vote. -One moment, please.

-Please proceed voting on the ordinance.

-Voting the ordinance.

-11 have voted, 12. All have voted on the motion.

Voting in favor -- council members Medrano,

Arnold, Thomas,

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Wilson, Council Member Clayton,

Mayor Pro Tem Alonzo,

council members Kingston, Greyson, Briggs, and Young.

Voting against -- council member McGough, Gates, Kleinman,

Mayor Rawlings, and Council Member Callahan.

The motion carries, Mr. Mayor.

-Thank you.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Thank you.


Thank you.

Thank you.

-How do you feel?

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Something gave me courage.

Like, knew something was gonna happen,

something good.


[ Spanish music playing in background ]

-Here, Marvin. Are you listening?

[ Indistinct talking ]

-Hola! Como estas?

-You have the honor, the pleasure to be here

supporting Claudia and really making a statement

that we're not letting thishappen to our community members,

and we're not letting anyone stand between us

and our people and our family.


[ Cheering ]


[ Chanting in Spanish ]

-She deserves to be here.

She deserves to live a dignified life with her family.

[ Cheering ]


[ Cheering ]



[ Chanting in Spanish ]

[ Cheering ]



Okay. Bye.

[ Laughs ]

[ Laughter ]

[ Spanish music playing on radio ]


[ Indistinct talking ]

-But it's really great.

-It is really an honor for me to introduce

Gustavo and his daughter Jasmine tonight.

Even though they had a lot of grief

and they were going through such a difficult time,

immediately, they started working on

getting workers in Dallas the right to drink water

and the right to take a rest.

[ Applause ]

-Some families went through the same thing we went through,

but decided to keep quiet about it.

We didn't want to keep quiet about it, though.

It blows my mind how some people don't look around

and open their eyes

and realize workers are important

to America.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

[ Cheers and applause ]


[ Chanting in Spanish ]

-It was like my brother was, like, next to me.

That gave me a lot of strength to keep on going.

I hope people remember my brother by a great person...

...a person that died for workers.

I want people to think of him as a hero.


[Chanting in Spanish]


[Chanting continues]


[Chanting continues]


[Chanting continues]