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Workers Win Living and Prevailing Wages on Construction Projects Receiving Tax Incentives
LIUNA showed up in force last Thursday with nearly one hundred workers proudly wearing orange at a rally of more than 400 activists from unions, faith groups and social justice organizations to demand the Austin City Council support better wages for Austin’s construction workers. The Austin City Council heard us loud and clear when they voted 6-1 to require construction workers be paid either prevailing wages or a living wage of $11 per hour, whichever is higher, by companies who seek economic development incentives from the city.
As wages have declined and housing costs have sky-rocketed, more and more Austin families are being forced into poverty. These inequities inspired LIUNA to join community groups nearly two years ago in the fight for better pay and safer working conditions in Austin. Reno Hammond, Business Manager of the Southwest Laborers District Council (SWLDC), explained, “With the best economy in the country, Austin is a modern day boom town, but unfortunately this prosperity has been out of reach for construction workers that do the back-breaking labor each day to build Austin’s growing skyline and fuel this thriving economy. As Laborers, we could no longer sit idly by and watch this growing disparity; so we felt it was our moral duty to lead the charge to ensure multi-million dollar companies asking for corporate hand-outs from the city were held to a higher standard that included investing in the development of Austin’s workforce.”
LIUNA’s ongoing efforts helped lead to the formation of the Special Committee on Economic Incentives by the Austin City Council, which voted on November 27, 2012 to approve and send to the full City Council five amendments to the City’s Economic Development Policy following five months of hearings and discussions with stakeholders from throughout the community. Council members Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, and Laura Morrison authored the historic resolution to require living wages, prevailing wages, safety requirements, certified training and worker’s compensation coverage for construction workers on projects receiving tax breaks.
Jeremy Hendricks, Assistant Business Manager for the SWLDC and Secretary Treasurer of Austin Local 753, who helped craft the updated policy said at Thursday’s hearing, “We came here to represent not just ourselves, but all workers who toil to build a better Austin. We came here to represent all workers who struggle each day to provide for their families. We came here to stand proudly and loudly with this diverse group of concerned citizens to call on the Mayor and City Council to vote yes to stop incentivizing poverty wage jobs.”
The principal author of the law, Austin City Councilor and LIUNA friend Mike Martinez said, "Are those jobs that pay less than $11 an hour, that don't provide health coverage and domestic partner benefits, are those the jobs that we really want in Austin? Do they actually provide an economy here, or do they draw on the economy because they don't have health care, because they're not paying a living wage? I agree that quality of life starts with a job, but I think it starts with a good job, a job that starts with a decent wage."
“I want to thank the hundreds of LIUNA members who rallied and spoke in favor of living wages over the last year, but our work is not done,” said Hammond, “Although LIUNA is proud of this historic win for workers, it is only the foundation for the work that must still be done to build a better Austin where all workers can lift themselves out of poverty and truly live the American dream.”