Gov. Katie Hobbs visited the site of Taiwan Semiconductor’s new facility in north Phoenix to announce a new worker safety partnership for construction workers following reports of accidents and alleged safety violations at the site.
Hobbs, Industrial Commission of Arizona Director James Ashley and TSMC Arizona President Brian Harrison signed on to the new voluntary workplace safety agreement.
“Under this agreement, TSMC will adhere to requirements higher than those at the federal level,” Hobbs said. “These additional safety measures include greater transparency for workers, closer oversight from the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health and increased training for foremen and all hands.”
The two-year agreement includes a number of provisions, including training programs for employees new to the construction industry and increased training requirements for managers and on-site leaders. It also requires the partners to gather incident and investigation data, provide monthly feedback on the information and includes quarterly and annual evaluations by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH).
There are currently about 12,000 workers on the project, and the agreement will apply to all contractors, subcontractors and trades working on the site.
“This involves everybody because everybody plays an important role, and everybody has an important responsibility,” Ashley said.
The governor announced the new agreement about a month after reports surfaced of a concerning safety culture on the TSMC worksite. In June, The American Prospect reported on a litany of claims from workers, including allegations that two construction workers died on the site. The report cites a letter Aaron Butler, president of the Arizona Building Trades Council, sent to the White House that references a man that died from blood loss.
Another union representative, Luke Kasper with the sheet metal workers union, told The American Prospect, “It’s easily the most unsafe site I’ve ever walked on.”
TSMC denied the allegations of deaths on the job site and defended its safety record.
“TSMC is deeply committed to workplace safety. In Phoenix, there have been zero work related fatalities since the groundbreaking in 2021. We are regularly audited against known safety standards by organizations such as the Arizona Department of Safety and Health (ADOSH),” the company said in a statement to KJZZ last month.
Harrison also cited the company’s safety record during the announcement Friday, pointing to internal numbers that show “our reportable safety incident rate is nearly 80% lower than the national average … our lost time incident rate runs at about 95% lower than the national average.”
Hobbs told reporters she was aware of reports on working conditions at the site.
“I just got here, so we took action as soon as we could,” she said.
In addition to the safety agreement, Hobbs also announced a new construction workforce training program, dubbed “BuilditAZ.” The goal of the initiative is to double the number of construction and trades apprentices in the state by 2026 to meet the increased demand for workers in industries like housing, semiconductors and electric vehicles, and increase access to apprenticeships for women and other underrepresented groups.
The need for more skilled labor is another issue that has hung over the TSMC facility’s construction. In July, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu told investors construction at the Phoenix plant was slowed by a lack of skilled workers and production at the facility would be delayed from 2024 to 2025, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Hobbs noted that the number of registered apprentices in Arizona is already on the rise, increasing by 42% between 2010 and 2021. She also cited projections showing the state is on track to gain around 220,000 construction jobs by 2031.
“As apprentices graduate with enhanced skills and knowledge, they’re better prepared and can quickly contribute to increased productivity and innovation,” Hobbs said.
The governor has allocated $500,000 in federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds to expand existing employer-funded apprenticeships. Money will also be made available to expand access to pre-apprenticeship programs, according to a fact sheet provided by the governor’s office.
Additionally, the governor plans to appoint trades representatives to the Workforce Arizona Council, which is responsible for drafting the state’s plan for spending Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act money.
The governor directed the council to convene a working group consisting of construction and trades representatives, Arizona agencies and educational and nonprofit organizations to formulate a plan within the next 90 days.