Published: Austin American Statesman, December 22, 2012
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” — Adam Smith, “Wealth of Nations”
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is needy ...” — Deuteronomy 24:14
Austin Interfaith and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce agree on several things when it comes to incentive deals. We both want businesses to come to Austin, and we want them to bring good job opportunities, with a career path, for its workers.
However, Austin Interfaith draws the line at subsidizing poverty employment on the taxpayer dime. If a corporation wants to open shop in Austin and pay poverty wages, they are welcome to do so without economic incentives. All corporations already benefit from public sector police and fire protection, streets and drainage infrastructure, transit, garbage collection and other goods. For more than five years, our position has been that if we, as taxpayers, are going to invest our public dollars in private enterprises, it stands to reason that we, as taxpayers, should establish a threshold and protocol that prevents hardworking people from being poor and miserable.
The chamber considers a wage threshold to be an unacceptable burden on the blue-chip corporations it recruits — even the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,000 per year). In contrast, an analysis by the Austin Business Journal noted that the equivalent “$11 an hour floor would not be a big deal to incentive grabbers.” Just last week, Visa voluntarily accepted that same threshold.
When the city of Austin grappled with the question of how much to pay its own employees and contractors years back, they chose the $23,000-a-year threshold to keep their workers above the poverty line. Last month, the City Council’s special committee on economic incentives bravely concluded that businesses receiving public dollars should be subject to that same standard, and proposed that future incentives only go to those that pay $11 an hour or more. Their proposal last month not only addressed the issue of wages — it would also address the process.
The city’s current process for tax incentives involves meetings that last late into the night. Professional presentations stress that the deal will be “cash positive” to the city and bring great jobs to Austin. Austin Interfaith and others testify that many workers will be left in poverty and-or consigned to dangerous working conditions. Corporate representatives sit in shock because they thought this was a done deal. After receiving a letter from the city manager describing the offer and indicating that the deal is recommended for approval, they are here to celebrate — not to be dragged through the mud. Sometime after midnight, the deal is approved.
Austin Interfaith, whose members include more than 30 religious, labor and educational institutions, wants these made-for-TV dramas to end. We developed a set of standards for incentive proposals to meet all stakeholders’ objectives. If tax incentives are to be granted, they should only be for companies willing to pay an hourly wage of no less than $11 an hour, including to contract construction workers. Companies should hire locally, provide benefits and support training opportunities so that people can advance at work.
Opponents of the wage floor want to make it optional, suggesting that the city offer an extra bonus to businesses in order to “incentivize” paying at least $23,000 a year. This would lead, instead, to poverty wages.
The chamber incorrectly claims that US Farathane would not have been eligible for incentives if even one job falls below $11 an hour. Under the committee’s proposal, a company that plans to hire ex-offenders, high school dropouts or other hard-to-employ people would certainly be eligible for an exception and could have their request considered favorably.
A wage floor is not just about preventing physical privation. Adam Smith’s concern with poverty was about public participation in the life of community — he considered a “necessity” that which would allow one to appear, and to act, in public without shame. Our faith traditions likewise call on us to pay our workers fairly so that they can provide for their families and participate in public life with dignity.
Austin Interfaith and its member organizations, the Worker Defense Project and LiUNA, support the special committee’s proposed wage floor.
Higher-paid workers are more productive, loyal, creative and collaborative — and will attract the kind of corporations our city deserves.
De Cortés and Batlan are members of the Austin Interfaith Strategy Team.
“A diverse mix of Labor Union representatives, city and county elected officials, faith-based organizations and advocates for fair wages and working conditions came to the Workers Defense Project office Tuesday night…to celebrate a move by the county regarding tax incentives, a move many are hoping the city of Austin will follow.
“We really feel a company that’s not willing to pay $11 an hour isn’t a very good candidate for an incentive…” said Bob Batlan with Austin Interfaith.”
Leaders celebrated the 3-1 passage of a living wage proposal by the City of Austin’s special committee on economic incentives. In partnership with member institutions Workers Defense Project and the Laborers International Union of North America, ”one-hundred construction workers and their allies were at city hall for the meeting, marching for something they’ve asked for time and again—a living wage….Austin Interfaith’s Jim O’Quinn says that’s why [Austin Interfaith] backs a push for standards companies must meet before they can get tax breaks from the city.” The measure, which will come before the city council in upcoming months, needs four votes to pass.
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Travis County to Require $11 Hourly Wage for All Incentive Deals; Austin Weighs Similar Requirement, Austin American Statesman
Leaders piled into City Hall to ask City council members to raise the minimum workers would be paid. Says Garcia,”When we’re using public funds we’ve got to bring in jobs where families can at least afford to eat.”
On the morning of October 6th, Austin City Council passed the Public Health and Human Service budget and two other items that moved additional funding to Capital Idea, keeping the program at 2011 level funding ($1.08 million) for FY 2012. Over the last year leaders attended public hearings and council meetings to challenge the City's no-lobbying ordinance and eventually met face-to-face meetings with council members to secure this funding as well as the expansion of funding for other programs.
This past month Travis County Commissioners Court voted not only for the continuation of level funding ($700,000) for Capital Idea it also added another $97,000 to help supplement cuts from the state.
AUSTIN INTERFAITH VICTORY PAGES
OCTOBER 27, 2010
A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions
Get Out the Vote Weekend – Over 200 Austin Interfaith leaders worked in 18 member institutions to Get Out the Vote for Austin Interfaith Votes Weekend (October 23rd – 24th). Even the rain didn’t stop over 75 leaders from block walking in precincts promoting the non-partisan Austin Interfaith Issues Agenda and encouraging people to vote early. Leaders also conducted phone banks and sign-ups to the agenda during and after services. While our long-term goal is to sign up and deliver 22,000 voters to the polls on our agenda over the next several election cycles, already AI leaders have tripled the number of leaders and institutions working on GOTV from the last election.
Austin Interfaith leaders meet with Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis – On October 19th U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, Hilda L. Solis visited Capital IDEA, the workforce strategy created by Austin Interfaith. The meeting was arranged by Austin Interfaith and its sister organizations from the Southwest IAF, as well as Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who also attended. On November 4th, representatives from Senator John Cornyn’s office will also visit Capital IDEA.
One-on-One’s at Cristo Rey Catholic Church – During the week of October 11th, Austin Interfaith organizers conducted individual meetings with 75 parishioners of Cristo Rey Catholic Church. The meetings were arranged by the Pastor and the head of stewardship to begin the organizing process in one of our newest member institutions. The purpose of one-on-ones are to identify potential leaders and issues for the organizing process. Congratulations Cristo Rey!
Congregational Church of Austin Host Immigration Civic Academy – On October 10th Congregational Church hosted a civic academy on the Immigration Reform Struggle. Bill Beardall, member of CCA and UT law professor, facilitated the event. The academy focused immigration reform and common faith traditions shared by our congregations.
Workers Defense Project Celebrates 8 Years of Action – On October 14th the Workers Defense Project, which joined Austin Interfaith this summer, celebrated their 8-year anniversary at the Mexican American Cultural Center. We wish to congratulate them on their anniversary and wish them continued success in defending workers’ rights!
AI representatives present at First UU Public Affairs Forum - On Sunday, October 24th, 40 people attended at the First Unitarian Universalist Church Public Affairs Forum, in which the Austin Interfaith Lead Organizer presented on Broad-Based Organizing. Leaders from Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church talked about the GOTV and local organizing efforts at their congregation.
Organizing Tip of the Week – The purpose of a broad-based organization like Austin Interfaith is to build sustained power to improve the lives of families. Broad-based organizations strive to build relational power: power “with” as opposed to power “over”. Power is the ability to act and we act on our values on behalf of our families and communities.
Upcoming Actions & Events
• Don’t forget to vote! Polls close at 7:00 pm on Election Day, Tuesday November 2nd.
• Election Night Party: Tuesday, November 2nd at 7:00 pm at San Jose in the San Juan Diego School. Come eat, celebrate, and watch election results! This is a potluck event. Contact Ofelia Zapata for more information 669-0809.
• Austin Interfaith Monthly Leaders Meeting: Tuesday, November 16th at 7:00 pm at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (1206 East 9th Street). Please note that this meeting was changed to the third Tuesday of the month instead of the fourth due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Austin Interfaith Victory Pages
October 15, 2010
A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions
New Member Institutions: Austin Interfaith proudly welcomes four new member institutions which have joined the organization since the beginning of the summer!
St. Josephs Catholic Church in Manor
Workers Defense Project
Cristo Rey Catholic Church in Austin
Cab Drivers’ Association of Austin
Each of these institutions have already begun participation in our collective efforts to improve the lives of Central Texas families. We look forward to a long and effective partnership.
Austin Interfaith Votes: Following an assembly with 600 leaders at San Jose Catholic Church on August 8th, Austin Interfaith institutions launched a non-partisan Get Out the Vote effort to sign up and deliver 20,000 voters to the polls around its agenda of issues. Right now the signature count stands at 4,000, and over 100 block walkers have held hundreds of conversations in neighborhoods around Central Texas to talk about issues affecting families. Austin Interfaith Votes weekend is October 23rd-24th where over 200 leaders will conduct GOTV walks and congregations will encourage people to early vote after services.
AI leaders at City Council: Over 50 Austin Interfaith leaders appeared before City Council on September 30th to urge the Austin City Council to make long-term job training programs like Capital IDEA a distinct city budget priority. Several council members reaffirmed their commitment to Capital IDEA from the dais and during face to face meetings throughout the preceding week. Austin Interfaith leaders were also recognized by council members from the dais.
Over $100,000 New Funding: Austin Interfaith would like to recognize two local foundations: The Alice and Michael Kuhn Foundation and the Sooch Foundation for generous new grants to Austin Interfaith in 2010 to support organizational expansion and workforce organizing respectively. Additionally, Austin Interfaith will partner with member institution Education Austin on an “Innovation Fund” Grant that Education Austin secured to organize community-based schools in AISD. Collectively these three new grants represent over $100,000 in new funding to Austin Interfaith this year.
Readers’ Corner: Malcolm Gladwell, in a recent article entitled Small Change, compares the “strong ties” that bound the leaders of the civil rights movement with the “weak ties” that connect people through modern social networking through the internet and text messaging. While he concedes that social networking can be effective for some types of communication, the thick network of relationships developed through churches and face to face conversation are what ultimately gave civil rights leaders the capacity to overcome segregation.
Upcoming Actions and Events
• Austin Interfaith Votes Weekend! October 23rd-24th. All congregations are urged to deliver their members to the polls this weekend as well have blockwalkers out in full force!
• Austin Interfaith Monthly Leaders Meeting: Tuesday October 26th, 7:00pm Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (1711 E. Oltorf St., Austin, TX 78741)
• Early Voting Runs Monday, October 18th through Friday, October 29th!
• Election Day Tuesday November 2nd
AUSTIN INTERFAITH ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES 2008-09
Austin Interfaith, with a budget of under $250,000, leveraged an investment of over $18,000,000 in 2008-09 in human development and neighborhood initiatives created through its organizing
JET FUND: Austin Interfaith worked to create a $10,000,000 competitive state grant program for proven,
long-term job training programs such as Capital IDEA, started by Austin Interfaith. Austin Interfaith worked with a bipartisan group of elected officials, including Comptroller Susan Combs, Lt Governor David Dewhurst, Rep Mark Strama and other legislators, to create the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Fund Grants for Innovative and Successful Programs, which will match local investment.
CAPITAL IDEA: $2.5 million in direct investment in Capital IDEA by the City of Austin, Travis County
and federal government. Capital IDEA was started by Austin Interfaith and the business community.
ACCOUNT FOR LEARNING: Over $3,200,000 in resources for low-income schools in AISD through
the Account for Learning Program, including the funding of Parent Support Specialists for these schools.
ESL PROGRAMS: $222,000 City/County investment in adult ESL programs started by Austin Interfaith
AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS: Over $800,000 for after school enrichment programs for 28 AISD
through the Prime Time Program, created by Austin Interfaith.
INVESTMENT CAPITAL FUND: $200,000 in state grant money to AISD schools for parent and
teacher training through the Investment Capital Fund Grant created by Austin Interfaith and its Texas IAF Network sister organizations. To date, AISD schools have received over $2,000,000 in funding through this grant.
SUMMER YOUTH EMPLOYMENT: $600,000 in City and County funding for the Summer Youth
WATER INFRASTRUCTURE: Over $500,000 in public and private investment to connect 40 families
in East Travis County to running water for the first time in five years.
TRAFFIC SAFETY: $100,000 for a traffic light at the dangerous intersection of Metric and Bittern
Hollow, near St. Albert the Great Catholic Church.
AUSTIN INTERFAITH’S WORK HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED THIS PAST YEAR BY:
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University: In a just released study of Austin Interfaith’s work with East Austin Schools over a six year period, Austin Interfaith’s work with AISD schools increased student achievement on standardized tests by an average of 15-19%, improved professional culture and parent involvement, and yielded substantial new resources to all high poverty, low-performing schools.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs: In her Texas Works Report, recognized Austin Interfaith for its work in creating Capital IDEA, long term job training initiative started by Austin Interfaith which prepares low-earning adults for careers in living wage jobs.
The Governor’s Select Committee on Global Competitiveness: This committee chaired by businessman Woody Hunt called on the legislature to invest money in successful workforce strategies, singling out Austin Interfaith’s Capital IDEA as successful example.
Austin Interfaith leaders met with Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the summer to discuss the need for a deeper commitment from the federal government to long-term job training for families in Austin. Thanks to the work of Austin Interfaith leaders and Rep. Doggett, the new Federal budget signed 12/27/2007 includes a $238,000 appropriation for Capital IDEA!