Central Texas Interfaith Strategy Team leader Carlota Garcia of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, and her mother Rocio, are featured in this National Catholic Reporter "Earthbeat" article on an environmental justice impact of the storm in Austin.
"Downtown, west side, it was lit up like a Christmas tree," García said. "That night, we looked out the window and everything was dark in our (Eastside) neighborhood, and then [we could see] all the lights, beautiful on the skyscrapers just there on the other side of the freeway."
"Through her church, Garcia also volunteers as a strategy team leader with Central Texas Interfaith, a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation that has been doing relief and advocacy work during and after the storm."
[Photo Credit: Isabelle Baldwin, National Catholic Reporter]
Texas Storm Left Death, Devastation in Vulnerable Communities, National Catholic Report - Earthbeat [pdf]
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
Fr. Paul Skeith from SoCo Episcopal Community and CTI spoke at the Travis County Commissioners Court this week to advocate that any private company receiving public tax subsidies from the county pay living wages, benefits, a career track, and strategy to hire locally. The Court subsequently adopted these and other worker safety measures as part of a package advocated by CTI congregations and member institutions including Workers Defense Project, LIUNA, and Central Texas Building Trades.
On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court held a discussion on “Project Silicon Silver,” widely speculated to be the alias for chipmaking giant Samsung’s development contract. The discussion centered around acceptance of the preliminary application, along with a corresponding $150,000 fee paid out to the county by the developer.
The county is considering providing financial benefits in exchange for Samsung’s adherence to worker protection, wage, compensation, OSHA requirements and more.
Several citizen callers also stressed the need for county stipulations, including a living wage indexed to cost of living, local employee minimums and health insurance benefits for employees.
Father Paul Skeith of SoCo Episcopal Community advocated for all of the above issues, in addition to the opportunity for employees to rise within the company.
Jessica Wolff with Workers Defense Project highlighted the strengths of the development standards, citing the local hiring requirement, construction training requirement and anti-retaliation provisions, and called for the standards set in this policy to become the county norm.
”We recognize this is a great first step and there’s still more work to be done,” Wolff said.
CTI leaders Ruby Roa of SoCo Episcopal and Trenton Henrichson of St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church advocated at Austin City Council this week for Austin to maximize affordable housing and public benefits for the city-owned redevelopment project at the former downtown Health South rehabilitation facility.
Councilmembers Tovo and Harper-Madison worked together to unanimously pass measures stipulating, among other community benefits, that "the central use of this tract is to be housing, specifically affordable housing."
[Photo Credit: HealthSouth Building/KXAN]