After Austin Interfaith leaders and allies rallied at AISD to urge school board members to vote in support of federal prevailing wages for bond project construction workers, the AISD votes in support of living wages a little before midnight. Barbara Budde of the Austin Catholic Diocese started off testimony that night with a letter from Bishop Joe Vasquez urging the school board to support the proposal. Leaders of Austin Interfaith member institutions IBEW, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Education Austin, LiUNA, Workers Defense Project, Painters Local 1779 and the Equal Justice Center delivered impassioned testimony to the same end.
In the 5-4 vote, trustees Tamala Barksdale, Gina Hinojosa, Jayme Mathias, Ann Teich and Amber Elenz voted for the federal prevailing wages. [Photo Credit: Austin American Statesman]
Austin District Approves Prevailing Wages for Bond Work, Austin American Statesman
The Austin Independent School District Board approved several construction projects last night. That's despite the fact that the workers hired for those projects will be paid based on 2005 standards.
The issue came up at the school board's meeting last month - when trustees talked about adopting a new pay rate study. But so far, that hasn't happened.
Minerva Camarena-Skeith is a member of the non-partisan group Austin Interfaith. She says the old pay rate scale is hurting local families.
"Last month we were glad to hear from this board that we should not be approving construction projects with a price tag with the 2005 labor standards - and that was about $2 million. Yet here we are again today with the consent agenda asking for eight contracts that are over $3 million under those old wage standards."
Trustees said last month they decided to move forward with projects in order to make sure they were complete by the start of next school year.
Projects on the consent agenda last night included moving and renovating portable classrooms and modifying kitchen plumbing systems across the district.
"Kayvon Sabourian, an attorney with the Equal Justice Center and a representative with Austin Interfaith, said he wants the district to move forward with the federal rates because they are readily available and can be adopted immediately, rather than pay 2005 rates to workers for some projects and then paying them a different wage later once the district has updated its pay rates. 'There’s a real concern about spending the bond money using 2005 standards,' Sabourian said. 'Morally, we shouldn’t as a community use taxpayer money to pay people under the prevailing wages of today. We should be paying construction workers what they’re owed: the prevailing wages of today, not 10 years ago.'"
Labor Groups Ask Austin District to Adopt Federal Wage Rates, Austin American Statesman
Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the passage of a historic living wage ordinance they had fought for over the course of five years. Institutional representatives from congregations, schools and workers associations challenged city council candidates in 2012 to craft an ordinance requiring that jobs emerging from taxpayer incentives pay at least a living wage or prevailing wage, if higher. An economic incentive team put together language, which included an exception process, that was later adopted by a Special Committee on Economic Incentives and proposed by Councilmembers Martinez, Tovo and Morrison Thursday night. Catholic Bishop Joe Vasquez intervened reading a statement of support for the ordinance at a 6pm rally, which was later read by an Austin Interfaith leader in Council chambers. After four hours of testimony and debate, the City of Austin passed, for the first time ever, a requirement that corporations receiving tapayer incentives be required to pay the City established living wage of $11 per hour or prevailling wages, whichever is higher.
Then There’s This: A ‘Decent Wage’, Austin Chronicle
In Austin, Workers Score Big, Texas Observer
Living Wages in Austin, Austin Interfaith
City councilmembers will vote Thursday on a long-debated initiative requiring that corporations that receive public subsidies pay the prevailing wage or at least $11 per hour (the City and County established living wage) -- something that "groups such as Austin Interfaith and the Austin-based Workers Defense Project have been seeking for years."
Economic incentives has been a key issue in prior elections. Austin Interfaith has been working on this issue since 2008.
City May Set $11 Wage for Tax Deals, Austin American Statesman
Austin Interfaith & Worker's Defense Project Calls on City to Enforce Own Rules on Economic Incentives & Construction Wages
‘Developers need to keep their promises to taxpayers and workers, and the city must enforce its own rules,’ said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, a leader of Austin Interfaith, a multi-congregation group pushing the city to establish a standard above minimum wage on construction projects that are granted economic development deals by the city.” [Photo: Alberto Martinez, Austin American Statesman]
Labor Advocates Ask Court to Step into Marriott Dispute, Austin American Statesman
Sheets’ decision to focus on other legislation pleased Austin Interfaith, a coalition of congregations and social justice groups that has been pushing for the living-wage requirement. At the organization’s request, members of its Dallas-area counterpart and representatives of the Dallas affiliate of the Workers Defense Project met with Sheets, asking him to drop his legislation and citing, among other reasons, a desire for local control in such matters, said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, an Austin Interfaith leader.
"I think we have a very balanced approach that is good for the city, the taxpayers, companies and contractors,” said Bob Batlan, a member of Temple Beth Shalom and Austin Interfaith involved in the living-wage discussions. “I’m pleased that (Sheets) recognizes the balanced approach.”
Legislator Backs Off Bill to Ban Living Wage Requirement, Austin American Statesman
“National Instruments Corp. won approval Thursday for $1.7 million in city of Austin incentives to support the company’s proposed expansion of 1,000 Austin jobs over the next 10 years….
The deal was praised by representatives of Austin Interfaith because the company agreed to a floor wage of $11 an hour for all jobs, including construction jobs tied to the project. The company also agreed to work with contractors to ensure that construction workers on the project will be covered by worker’s compensation insurance.”
City OK’s $1.7 Million in Incentives to National Instruments, Austin American Statesman
“This is an opportunity to create good jobs for our families,” said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, with Austin Interfaith, a coalition of churches, schools and local governments that is an advocate for jobs paying a living wage, among other issues....
The new jobs are believed to be part of the company’s plans to hire more technical workers and engineers to support its expanding business. The average annual wage for the new jobs is $65,000, and the lowest-paid 10 percent will make about $40,000, according to the county."
Travis Commissioners Discuss Incentives for National Instruments, 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.