In Fact Daily: (posted on web for subscribers only; text pasted below and attached)
Three companies scouting city as Council considers new rules for incentives
Three companies involved in the manufacturing of solar panels are interested in moving their operations to Austin, according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell. Though nothing has been put in writing, Leffingwell has met with representatives from those companies, and, he said Wednesday, “all three are very seriously considering Austin.”
According to the mayor, one of the companies would like to be operational by next summer, though the process would involve several months of lead time even after an agreement with the city was reached. That company, Leffingwell said, is interested in moving into a shell rather than erecting a building from the ground up.
The mayor said he is encouraged by the news: “I have said, ever since 2005, that targeted industries, like those in the renewable energy business, would be specifically the ones we would want to talk to about coming to Austin.”
So, any changes to the city’s economic incentives policy—such as those being considered at today’s City Council meeting—are not just an academic exercise.
The Council is expected to approve an ordinance establishing an enhanced economic incentive proposal review process. That would require a formal cost-benefit analysis as part of the city's evaluation process for economic incentive agreements including “direct and indirect costs of such proposals.” It would also implement a timeline of 13 days to allow citizens to review and comment on any economic-incentive proposals before the Council could take action on them.
The ordinance is the result of a February Council resolution directing the city manager to convene a stakeholders group – made up of members of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Capital City African-American Chamber of Commerce, Liveable City, and Austin Interfaith – to consider elements of city policy concerning economic incentives. The group met on three occasions in March, April, and July to discuss the implementation of the cost-benefit analysis as well as a timeline for the city’s review process.
One issue the stakeholders group did not make a determination on concerns wages and benefits for workers employed by companies that receive tax incentives from the city. This is a concern for Austin Interfaith and other citizens’ organizations, which see the issue as vital to the economic and social future of the city. These groups want the Council to ensure that any companies receiving incentives from the city provide their employees with a living wage (no less than $18 an hour), health benefits, and clear paths to advancement within the company, and that those companies have a strategy to hire local workers.
According to Austin Interfaith Strategy Team member Minerva Camarena Skeith, these groups are concerned that economic incentives without built-in safeguards for local workers might cripple the economy. “We want to make sure,” she said, “that our tax dollars are being spent on bringing high-quality jobs to Texas, not just providing breaks for corporations. If companies are going to be profiting off our incentives, they should have to provide for the city and its citizens.”
“We have to ask ourselves: Is Austin is going to be a city of low-wage workers, or are we going to set a higher standard?”
According to Skeith, at accountability sessions Interfaith Austin held during this year’s elections, all current members of the City Council, including Leffingwell, made commitments to support worker protections in any economic-incentive legislation. “We’re confident,” says Skeith, “that the council members will honor their commitments.”
But one council member, Sheryl Cole, says she is concerned that such a proposal could have unintended consequences for the city. “I simply do not want us, in the interest of helping our work force earn more and receive more benefits,” Cole said, “to operate under a faulty premise and keep economic opportunities out of Austin for the most vulnerable members of our society.
“I certainly support living wages and health benefits. I am, however, concerned that we do not take any actions that have a negative impact on our unemployed and underemployed, such that we are not granting incentives to help those most in need of social-service assistance. I do, however, think that the ordinance can be drafted in such a way that we do not exclude any companies that have jobs that would be available to the most vulnerable members of our society but … that cannot pay the living wage or health benefits,”
Leffingwell, for his part, believes health benefits should be a necessary component of the city’s economic incentive agreements. “I don't see how the city could enter into an agreement with any company,” he said, “that did not provide the opportunity to have basic health insurance for its employees.”
Austin Interfaith Victory Pages
November 19, 2010
A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions
Welcome University United Methodist Church
We are proud to announce University United Methodist Church has joined Austin Interfaith. We look forward to working with Senior Pastor Dr. John Elford, Associate Pastor Susan Sprague and their congregation.
Austin Interfaith GOT OUT THE VOTE.
Austin Interfaith created a nonpartisan Get Out the Vote effort involving 20 institutions and 200 trained leaders that reached an estimated 25,000 people in this fall’s election. We worked to increase voter participation in our member institutions as well as 9 targeted precincts around them. Our plan is to build on this in the upcoming election cycles.
The leaders’ work translated to an increase in the number of raw votes cast in the precincts they claimed—a 14% compared to the 2006 gubernatorial election. In comparison, the increase in raw votes in Travis County as a whole was only 5%.
The percentage of registered voters who cast ballots increased on average in the nine precincts Austin Interfaith leaders targeted (compared to the 2006 election). This is compared to an overall decrease in that percentage for Travis County as a whole. Austin Interfaith worked its precincts, which are predominantly on the east and south sides of the county, with an intensive campaign of block walks, worship service announcements and phone calls, Austin Interfaith leaders GOT out the vote. (Precincts targeted included 101, 124, 133, 258, 424, 438, 439, 450, and 461)
Readers’ Corner: Hot off the Princeton University Press is an account of work the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF); Jeffery Stout’s Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America hit the shelves this week. Stout traveled the country investigating how citizens are joining together to address issues affecting families and neighborhoods. All of the leaders and institutions he writes about are connected to IAF organizations like Austin Interfaith.
Upcoming Actions and Events:
• Pre-K Speak-Out at AISD School Board, 1111 West 6th Street
7pm Monday, Nov. 22nd
Austin Interfaith, in partnership with Education Austin, recognizes the necessity of full day Pre-K for our children’s long-term success in education and to a thriving economy in Austin. Speak-out to the school board to stop the proposed elimination of full-day Pre-K.
• Austin Interfaith Holiday Party on Thursday, December 16th at 7pm, location to be determined
Austin Interfaith Victory Pages
March 29th, 2010
A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions
200 leaders participate in Austin Interfaith Annual Delegates Assembly – Organizing teams from each of Austin Interfaith member institutions gathered on March 9th at San Jose Catholic Church to develop the AI organizing strategy for the coming year. Teams made commitments for institutional dues, participation in the corporate investment campaign, identifying new leaders, and issues they will focus on. AI institutions more than doubled the size of their core leadership since last years assembly (85 organizing team leaders). Councilwoman Laura Morrison was also recognized at the assembly for sticking to her commitments to the organization on support for Capital IDEA and living wages.
Living Wages for Tax Subsidies – Over the past several months Austin Interfaith leaders have pushed to require companies receiving tax subsidies to move to Austin to pay living wages with benefits, a career track, and a strategy to hire locally. AI’s work has lead to a city resolution requiring companies to disclose the wages they pay the bottom 10% of their workers, as well as a commitment to moving hearings to after work hours. Most importantly, the points Austin Interfaith has been advocating for are now part of the public debate on every deal. (See attached press links).
In order to increase safety and reduce fear in Austin neighborhoods, AI leaders are working with APD Chief Art Acevedo and the Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton to build relationships and trust with law enforcement officers. After conducting a house meeting campaign in immigrant parishes, AI leaders surfaced stories of fear of immigrants being jailed and possibly deported for minor traffic violations. Chief Acevedo and Sheriff Hamilton affirmed that this is not the policy of their agencies and committed to working with Austin Interfaith to continue to build relationships and trust within the immigrant community.
ORGANIZIING TIP OF THE WEEK:
Individual meetings (aka “one-on-ones” or “relational meetings”) are primarily about identifying potential leaders. It is the most basic and most fundamental tool in broad-based organizing. Top leaders in the organization should be on a constant “talent search” by doing regular individual meetings. For an organizing team, individual meetings are best done as part of a campaign (1-3 months). Individual meetings are a 20-30 minute conversation focused on a persons’ story, passion, anger, important relationships, etc., and often end with a proposal for action.
Hugh Heclo, in his book, On Thinking Institutionally, makes the case that an openness to the traditions, values, and relationships, within institutions (congregations, schools, political and legal institutions, sports teams, etc) is necessary for full human development and a stable society. He makes a distinction between “bureaucratic” thinking, and “institutional thinking”, the latter being marked by an openness to receiving values passed on, and an understanding that we were formed by those who came before us, and our decisions have an impact on those who come after us.
Austin Interfaith/Austin Catholic Diocese Immigration Organizing Training, Saturday April 17th, 9:00am-12:00noon at the Austin Catholic Diocese Pastoral Center (6225 E. Hwy 290). This is open to all congregations interested in organizing around the issue of immigration. This effort has been a partnership of Austin Interfaith and the Austin Catholic Diocese Office of Hispanic Ministry.
Austin Interfaith Education Civic Academy, April 27th 2009, 6:30-8:00PM (check with the office to confirm location). This will take the place of the monthly leaders meeting and will be open to all institutions and leaders. The focus will be on understanding current issues impacting Central Texas districts as well as a strategy for education organizing.
Please call the Austin Interfaith Office with any questions: 512-916-0100
In the largest event of the local election season, Austin Interfaith leaders turned out in force to set the agenda for candidates running for Austin City Council and AISD and ACC boards.
Held on April 20 at St. Ignatius, Martyr Catholic Church in South Austin , leaders shared their stories of pressures they and their families are facing in the areas of health care, employment, education, ESL, immigration status, relations with the police, and traffic concerns.
Firm commitments were made by candidates to vote for increased funding and support for these initiatives that help bring people into the middle class and keep them there. Leaders collected over 5,000 signatures on agendas of issues. In a strong showing of organized political power, leaders from Austin Interfaith institutions gathered over 5,000 signatures on local and organizational agendas of issues from their institutional members and from the public. These signatures were used to help turn out the vote in the local May elections.
Santa Barbara leaders have succeeded in getting the first of a total of forty families in the Hornsby Bend area fully connected to running water.
Last year over $400,000 in infrastructure was invested in the project to get running water for the families, some of whom had been without water for five years,. By organizing residents to work together with the utility company, applications were approved, pipes laid on properties, and meters activated to start the water flowing! The community is now focused on organizing to get the financial resources needed for the remaining families to get their water too.
Three new members have joined Austin Interfaith since the start of the year.
Congregation Kol Halev: a Jewish congregation with a focus on community that meets at the Dell Jewish Community Center in Northwest Austin :
ACC/AFT (Austin Community College American Federation of Teachers Union):
local branch 6249 of the national and state federation of teachers and represents all non-administrative employees of Austin Community College .
Simpson United Methodist Church : a historically African-American, central East Austin congregation established in 1880 that has played a significant role in the city for over 100 years.
Austin Interfaith conducts Research Actions on Health Care, Education, Workforce, and Police Relations
Dozens of leaders held over forty conversations in the first months of the year with policy makers, academics, community leaders, and public officials to learn in detail about these issue areas. Relationships, knowledge, and analysis gained in these meetings informed the action strategies and questions asked to candidates at the April Accountability Session.
50 leaders from Catholic parishes throughout Austin gathered at Dolores Catholic Church for a half-day of intensive leadership training.
Spanish-speaking Austin Interfaith leaders collaborated with Gil Leija, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese, to conduct the session and support leadership among immigrants and Spanish-speakers in Catholic churches.
Austin Interfaith was a community partner in a spring semester graduate course that focused on health disparities in central Texas .
Two leaders were enrolled in the course itself and Austin Interfaith collaborated with the professors and students to host a public education workshop for Spanish speakers at Dolores Catholic Church and to present at the international Abriendo Brecha: Activist Scholarship Conference. In addition, an undergraduate anthropology student interned with Austin Interfaith to support research and organizing efforts around health care issues.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church's social justice ministry has recently completed a house meeting campaign at their church and St. Catherine of Sienna Church's Community Concerns and Advocacy group is beginning house meetings around health care issues in their parish community. New member Congregation Kol Halev has begun an individual meeting campaign, and institutions such as San Jose, Dolores, and St. Ignatius are using the summer months for individual meeting campaigns as well.
These are the conversations that make it possible to know the people in our communities, stay in tune with the pressures that regular Austinites are facing, and ground plans for action to address them.