Updated 11/28/2012 09:44 AM
Living wage at heart of overhaul to city incentive program
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Tuesday night marked the last scheduled meeting for a special committee tasked with reviewing how Austin doles out economic incentives.
One-hundred construction workers and their allies were also at city hall for the meeting, marching for something they’ve asked for time and again—a living wage.
By Austin standards, that is at least $11 an hour. Advocates say the typical laborer in Austin only gets about $7.50 an hour.
Austin Interfaith's Jim O'Quinn says that's why his coalition of churches backs a push for standards companies must meet before they can get tax breaks from the city.
Especially when it comes to workers building what will eventually house permanent jobs.
"We see individuals show up at soup kitchens at our churches working one job or two jobs and still not being able to support their families," O’Quinn said. "Often, they are left out when we talk about wages, we talk about safety and we talk about career path."
Apple agreed to build to LEED efficiency standards and make sure construction workers receive proper training and decent pay for their new facility coming to North Austin.
However, not every deal has been successful. Most recently, the manager of tech company HID Global said he could not guarantee they'd choose Austin if they had to pay construction workers the living wage of $11 an hour.
Council Member Mike Martinez led a charge to overhaul city incentive guidelines. If the full council votes in favor, all future incentive packages will require companies to pay the living wage, seek hard-to-employ local people and build energy-efficient buildings.
"I felt like it was unfair to them, it was unfair to the council and it's unfair to the public to be here at midnight trying to ask what should be baseline questions up front," Martinez said. "We are going to have the information clear, transparent, up front and well in advance of any potential council consideration."
Austin City Council still must vote on the recommendations before they become policy. In the meantime, council members still need to approve the latest incentives package, aimed at bringing financial giant VISA to town.