“Representatives from Austin Interfaith and the local business community founded Capital IDEA in 1998, and Steven Jackobs has been heading the organization ever since. Under his direction, the group has helped support, train and find careers for hundreds of Central Texas workers and their families. Capital IDEA – the IDEA stands for Investing in Development and Employment of Adults – works closely with unemployed or underemployed workers to identify a viable and fruitful career path. It’s a rigorous process that’s designed to ensure that workers are committed to the training and completing it….”
Capital IDEA Leads Clients to Career Path, Austin American Statesman
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.”
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.
As part of a $4.3 Million subsidy by the City of Austin to White Lodging Services Corp. to build a convention center hotel, Austin Interfaith, building trades unions, the Equal Justice Center and the Workers Defense Project (a member institution of Austin Interfaith), called on the City Council to require the company to pay all its construction workers the prevailing wage for their industry. (Prevailing wage is the industry standard set by the Federal government for a locale). Austin Interfaith leaders Patty Saragusa, Gina Hinojosa and Emily Timm worked on this effort as part of Austin Interfaith's living wage strategy and efforts to make sure any public subsidies to private companies lead to public gains like living wage jobs. In a related issue, investors behind the Formula One Racetrack decided to pay their own local match to state's $25 Million / year subsidy rather than ask the city council for the local subsidy.
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 **
In Fact Daily / De Hecho Cotidiano
Abril 12, 2011
Por Kimberly Reeves y Elizabeth Pagano
**Traducción hecho por Nidia Oporta de San Jose Catholic Church**
El foro de Responsabilidad de Austin Interfaith en la noche del Domingo facilmente sera la revision mas larga de esta temporada de elecciones y probablemente la multitud mas dificil que cualquier candidato para el consejo va a enfrentar cuando escojan decir “no” a cualquier “ asunto particular.
Lideres de Austin Interfaith pusieron en claro en la Seccion de responsabilidad que endorsan una agenda, no un candidato y que un “Si” de un candidato a un asunto era una invitacion a sostener a ese candidato a su palabra. Y no para sonar muy amenazante, pero ellos tenian no una sino dos, camaras de video grabando las respuestas de los candidatos para referencias futuras.
Un estimado de mas o menos 800 miembros de la audiencia en laIglesia Catolica San Ignacio Martir, una amplia seccion transversal de los grupos sostenian una pagina amarilla, en Ingles y Español y un espacio para marcar “si” o “no” por cada candidato en siete palabras claves: Seguridad del trabajador; la falta de viviendas de las personas sin hogar; inmigracion; salarios dignos; permisos de legado para conductores de taxi; asistencia a una cumbre; y participacion publica.
Oponentes y actuales miembros del consejo no tuvieron problemas diciendo si a algunos asuntos: requerir OSHA entrenamiento de seguridad en todos los proyectos de construccion que reciban subsidios de la ciudad o prestamos directos de la ciudad; estubieron de acuerdo en asociarse al clero de Austin Interfaith para tratar la falta de suficientes baños publicos y camas durante la noche para las personas sin hogar; independientemente de las leyes que pase la Legislatura sobre la reforma migratoria, esta seccion, apoya la posicion del Departmento de Policia de Austin que su function primordial es hacer cumplir la ley en lugar de ser una patrulla de inmigracion.
"Mis repuestas son si, si y si," Miembro del Consejo,Laura Morrison dijo a las tres primeras preguntas, para un salvaje aplauso de la audiencia. "Yoespero podercolaborar con Austin Interfaith para poner fin a la falta de viviendas de las personas sin hogar"
De una sola vez el miembro del Consejo, Max Nofziger, quien es el oponente a la actual Miembro del Consejo, Randi Shade, tambien ofrecio un "Si, Si y Si para una respuesta mas favorable de la multitud.
“Yo creo que todos nosotros tenemos una obligacion de ayudar a nuestro projimo”, “Nofziger dijo a la audiencia. “Yo creo que esta en la escritura enseñada aqui y en la biblia y yo creo que el gobierno puede ser una herramienta poderosa para ayudar a la gente. Eso es en lo que yo creo."
Otros candidatos tuvieron respuestas similares. La oponente de Shade, Kathie Tovo describio que era su obligacion el ayudar a las personas sin hogar como una persona de fe. En realidad, cada candidato dijo "si" a las primeras tres preguntas. Para tu propia cuenta, esos quienes habian sido previamente entrevistados y aparecieron en el foro incluyen a, Morrison, Nofziger, Shade, Tovo, Roger Chan y miembro del Consejo Chris Riley. Eric Rangel, quien es el oponente de Morrison, se sento con su congregacion en la audiencia pero no habia sido pre- entrevistado por el consejo de Austin Interfaith y, por lo tanto, no se le permitio participar en el foro.
Otras preguntas fueron mas retantes: requerir que todos las compañias de lucro que reciban subsidios de la ciudad que esten de acuerdo en pagar a los empleados por lo menos $34,000 al año con beneficios de cuidados de salud, un seguimiento en su profesion; apoyar "permiso legado," o medallon, para taxistas, de manera que ellos puedan cambiar entre empleadores; y abogar por cambios en la ordenanza de la ciudad sobre los grupos de presion o interes de manera que grupos sin fines de lucro como Austin Interfaith puedan hablar en el nombre de programas especificos de desarrollo humano financiados por la ciudad, siempre y cuando Austin Interfaith no este recibiendo fondos de esos programas.
Oponentes tuvieron un tiempo mucho mas facil con estas preguntas. Nofziger, por ejemplo, no tuvo problema criticando a Austin como "un patio de recreo para los ricos" cuando hablaban acerca de recorte de impuestos. Riley and Shade, al contrario, tuvieron problema dando garantias a la propuesta de salarios dignos por lucro. Ambos prefirieron respaldar la posicion actual de la ciudad, la cual require un salario de por lo menos $11 por hora.
"Yo no me comprometo a los $34,000," Shade dijo después de algunas idas y venidas acerca de si ella era un verdadero "no" en el llamado asunto de salarios dignos.
Ambos Shade y Riley tambien tuvieron problemas con los permisos de taxistas, con Riley expresando una necesidad de una nueva revision de la propuesta. Y Shade interpone que podría apoyar ajustar la ordenanza de la ciudad sobre los grupos de interes en nombre de organizaciones no lucrativas como Austin Interfaith, pero que la ordenanza, en general, sirve un propósito.
Despues de la junta, Riley estuvo de acuerdo que los permisos de taxistas podrian ser un problema; él noestaba segurode lasoluciónreal, todavia.
"Virtuamente todas las maneras en las que nosotros regulamos los taxis necesitan algo de trabajo, pero eso no es algo que sólo voy arriba y solo decreto donde estoy en eso.Eso va a implicar un proceso largo", dijo Riley cuando In Fact Daily le pregunto por qué el no voto en apoyo a los permisos legados de los conductores de taxi. “Yo estoy absolutamente comprometido a continuar ese proceso, pero yo no voy a predeterminar el resultado."
Similarmente, Riley explico que el estabareticente a aceptar el total de la obligación de salarios dignos para la relocalización de empresas subsidiadas por la ciudad. El explico a In Fact Daily que la renuencia se debía al hechoque había posiblementemas matices en el asunto que simplemente los salarios por hora, y un punto de corte a partir de $17 por hora podrían impedir que vinieran a Austin los trabajos con buenos beneficios y un seguimiento en la profecion.
El oponente de Riley, Roger Chan, dijo a In Fact que el tambien tenia preocupaciones acerca de la pregunta de salarios dignos aunque el ultimadamente voto si. Chan dijo fue el resultado final que era importante, no todas las pequeñas cosas.
"Si nosotros podemos balancear esos componentes y conseguir lo que necesitamos, eso es lo que importa, y el enfoque en cualquiera de esos podria no llevarte alla,” dijo Chan.
Riley dijo a In Fact Daily que el habia cumplido todas sus promesas a Austin Interfaith en su campaña previa, aunque el admitió que “hubieron unos desacuerdos acerca de exactamente que compromisos fueron hechos, durante el curso de ese proceso.”
Gina Hinojosa, una lider con Austin Interfaith hablo con In Fact Daily acerca desi alguno de los candidatos había roto los compromisos contraídos en las seciones de responsabilidad anteriores.
"Esto ha ocurrido," dijo Hinojosa, aunque ellos optaron por no llamar a ninguno de los candidatos en el foro “ Cambió el proceso. Ahora tenemos cámaras de video grabando las respuestas de todos y profesionales del vídeo que hacen esto por nosotros para que sepamos que es grabado." Hinojosa agregó que la acción pasada podría haber mostrado a los candidatos a no "asumir compromisos a la ligera."
"En el pasado, llevamos a nuestros miembros hasta el Consejo de la ciudad; los hacemos responsables de su compromiso Nosotros, si es necesario, hacemos llamadas telefónicas para recordarles su compromiso, tenemos reuniones con ellos, les dejamos saber a nuestros miembros en nuestras instituciones,” dijo Hinojosa.
"Quizas hubieron algunos no esta vez que nosotros no obtuvimos la ultima vez por que ellos saben que nosotros no vamos solamente a alejarnos cuando ellos no cumplan sus compromisos. Nosotros los vamos a responsabilizar por ellos." dijo Hinojosa