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
At an assembly with 504 Austin Interfaith delegates, candidates for City Council and Mayor committed to raising electricity rates no higher than 20% for congregations and to broaden assistance to people with limited incomes.
Candidates were also challenged about publicly funded incentives, as Austin has been the center of high-profile incentive deals in recent years. Austin Interfaith got all candidates to commit to setting a wage standard for permanent (and construction) workers ranging between $11-20 per hour. Candidates also agreed to a community study and dialogue with Austin Interfaith to determine what constitutes a living wage in Austin.
Candidates for Sheriff and US Congress also committed to working with the organization.
Leaders from the Worker’s Defense Project, a member institution of Austin Interfaith, successfully lobbied city council members to pass a resolution that will protect and train workers on all city-owned construction sites, whether or not a third-party is the developer. Until now, city contracts did not require safety trainings in a situation where the city allows a third party to develop city-owned property (examples of such developments are the Mueller Development, the Seaholm Power Plant and Water Treatment Plant No. 4.)
The resolution will also require that a safety supervisor with 30 hours of training be present at construction sites. A study released by the University of Texas in 2009 found that the Texas construction industry is the most deadly in the nation, with a worker dying on the job every 2.5 days. In Austin, one in every five construction workers is seriously injured on the job, in part because 64% of construction workers have never received a basic safety training. Numerous studies have found that safety training reduces costly accidents and saves lives.
At the Austin Interfaith Accountability Session this past April 800 people gathered, heard stories on a range of issues including unsafe working conditions and asked all candidates for city council if they would support expanded safety training. The candidates publicly answered that they would, and they kept their commitment—now all workers on city-owned construction sites, even when a third party developer is used, will be provided with an OSHA 10 hour safety training prior to working on the construction site.
Interfaith asks tough questions at candidate ‘accountability session’
By Kimberly Reeves and Elizabeth Pagano
Austin Interfaith’s Sunday night accountability forum easily will be the largest vetting this election season and probably the toughest crowd any Council candidate will face when choosing to say “no” to a particular issue.
Leaders of Austin Interfaith made it clear at that accountability session that it endorsed an agenda, not a candidate, and that a “yes” on an issue from a candidate was an invitation to hold that candidate to his or her word. And, not tosound too menacing, but they had not one, but two, video cameras recording the responses of the candidates for future reference.
An estimated 800 or so members of the audience at St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church, a broad cross section of groups, held a yellow sheet, in English and Spanish, and a space to mark “yes” or “no” for each candidate on seven key words: worker safety; homelessness; immigration; living wage; taxi driver legacy permits; attendance at a summit; and public participation.
Challengers and incumbents had no problem saying yes to some issues: require OSHA safety training on all construction projects that receive city subsidies or direct city lending; agree to partner with Austin Interfaith clergy to address the shortage of public restrooms and overnight beds for the homeless; and, regardless of what passes the Legislature on immigration reform this session, support the Austin Police Department’s position that its primary role is law enforcement rather than immigration patrol.
“My answers are yes, yes and yes,” Council Member Laura Morrison said to the first three questions, to wild applause from the audience. “I look forward to partnering with Austin Interfaith to end homelessness.”
One-time Council member Max Nofziger, who is challenging incumbentCouncil Member Randi Shade, also offered a “yes, yes and yes” to a rather favorable response from the crowd.
“I believe that we all have an obligation to help our fellow man and woman,” Nofziger told the audience. “I believe that is in the scripture taught here and in the Bible, and I believe that government can be a very powerful tool to help people. That’s what I believe in.”
Other candidates had similar responses. Shade challenger Kathie Tovo described helping the homeless as her obligation as a person of faith. In fact, every candidate said “yes” to the first three questions. For your own tally, those who had pre-interviewed and appeared at the forum included Morrison, Nofziger, Shade, Tovo, Roger Chan and Council Member Chris Riley. Eric Rangel, who is challenging Morrison, sat with his congregation in the audience but had not pre-interviewed with the Austin Interfaith board and, hence, was not allowed to participate in the forum.
Other questions were more challenging: require all for-profit companies that receive city subsidies to agree to employee wages of at least $34,000 a year with health care benefits and a career track; support a portable “legacy permit,” or medallion, for cab drivers, so they could switch between employers; and advocate for changes in the city’s lobbying ordinance so non-profits such as Austin Interfaith could speak on behalf of specific city-funded human development programs, as long as Austin Interfaith wasn’t getting funds.
Challengers had a far easier time with these questions. Nofziger, for instance, had no problem criticizing Austin as “a playground for the wealthy” when talking about tax breaks. Riley and Shade, on the other hand, ran into trouble giving guarantees to the for-profit living wage proposal. Both preferred to back the current position of the city, which was to require a wage of at least $11 per hour.
“I am not committing to the $34,000,” Shade said after some back-and-forth about whether she was an actual “no” on so-called living wage issue.
Both Shade and Riley also had problems with the taxicab permits, with Riley expressing a need for further review of the proposal. And Shade had to interject that she might support tweaking the city’s lobbying ordinance on behalf of non-profits like Austin Interfaith but that the ordinance, in general, served a purpose.
After the meeting, Riley agreed that the taxicab permits might be an issue; he just wasn’t sure of the actual solution, just yet.
“Virtually every way in which we regulate taxis needs some work, but that’s not something I’m just going to up and just decree where I am on that. That’s going to involve a long process,” said Riley when asked by In Fact Daily why he did not vow to support taxi driver legacy permits. “I’m absolutely committed to continuing that process, but I’m not going to predetermine the outcome.”
Similarly, Riley explained that he was reticent to agree to the total of the living wage requirement for city-subsidized relocating businesses. He explained to In Fact Daily that reluctance was due to the fact that there was perhaps more nuance than simply hourly wage to the issue, and a cutoff at $17 per hour could prevent jobs with good benefits and career tracks from coming to Austin.
Riley’s opponent, Roger Chan, told In Fact that he also had concerns about the living wage question, although he ultimately voted yes. Chan said it was the end result that was important, not all of the little things.
“If we can balance those components and get what we need, that’s what matters, and the focus on any one may not get you there,” said Chan.
Riley told In Fact Daily that he had kept all of his promises to Austin Interfaith in his previous campaign, although he admitted that “there were some disagreements about exactly what commitments were made, during the course of that process.”
Gina Hinojosa, a leader with Austin Interfaith spoke with In Fact Daily about whether any of the candidates had broken commitments made at previous accountability sessions.
“It has happened,” said Hinojosa, although they chose not to call out any of the candidates at the forum. “It changed the process. Now we have video cameras recording everybody’s answers and professional videographers doing that for us so that we know it’s recorded.” Hinojosa added that past action might have shown the candidates not to “take commitments lightly.”
“In the past, we bring our membership down to City Council; we hold them accountable to their commitment. We, if necessary, make phone calls to remind them of their commitment, we get meetings with them, we let our members in our institutions know,” said Hinojosa.
“Maybe there were some no’s this time that we didn’t get last time, because they know we’re not going to just walk away when they don’t honor their commitments. We’re going to hold them to it,” said Hinojosa
** Traducción hecho por Nidia Oporta de San Jose Catholic Church **
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
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.
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.