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Visa proposes ‘living wages’ for all employees, Council OKs incentives

Friday, December 7, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin City Council Thursday night unanimously approved an economic incentives package for a proposed 800-employee Visa Inc. computer center after the company added language to the agreement that includes a provision to pay all employees a living wage, including construction workers.


The Foster City, Calif.-based issuer of credit cards proposed additional language that requires its architect, general contractor and subcontractors to pay employees an hourly wage that meets or exceeds the prevailing wage of Travis County, or a minimum of $11 per hour, whichever is greater.


“I really do appreciate you taking the initiative to do this on your own,” Council Member Mike Martinez told Visa officials. “What it clearly demonstrates is that in many cases we can add these values to this proposal to only enhance it, and make it that much better for all the folks that are impacted by it.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell made it clear that this was not an endorsement of a new wage floor in every case, pointing out that Visa will not be building a facility from the ground-up, but renovating a leased space at 12301 Research Drive in Northwest Austin. Brad Byers, head of real estate and facilities for Visa, confirmed that if they were building from scratch, Visa would be unable to accept the wage floor condition.


Leffingwell called the circumstances “an entirely special, independent situation.”


Last week, Kevin Johns, the director of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, told In Fact Daily that Austin City Council’s approval of the economic incentive package would solidify Visa’s decision to locate the computer center in Austin, which would eventually employ roughly 800. But he was more measured this week, saying Austin was “in the mix” with sites Visa is also considering in Colorado and Virginia.


If awarded, the incentives may cost the city as much as $15 million, but is projected to generate as much as $21.8 million in city taxes and other revenues during the 10-year incentive agreement.


Visa said the jobs would come with an average salary of $113,000. The lowest-paid 10 percent of jobs are expected to pay just more than $61,000 annually.


Council Member Laura Morrison commented on the opportunities that could be available for people who have been out of the job for a while as well as those looking for a new career.


“I know that you are estimating that you will be hiring 70 percent of your new employees as local, so this could be a great opportunity for brainstorming about folks that have liberal arts degrees. I know that your target is for college degrees. But for folks that have liberal arts degrees, (this may be a new career path) if they could come up to speed with some rapid training,” Morrison said.


Representatives from Austin Community College, the Texas Veteran’s Association and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce all spoke in favor of the incentives and the jobs that would be created.


But there were a few detractors, including local activists Clay Defoe, Ronnie Reefer seed and Will McCloud, who made a point of the fact that he is actually a San Antonio resident.


Workers Defense Project business liaison Gregorio Casar told In Fact Daily that the inclusion of a wage floor in the contract was exciting.


“We are looking forward to the Council passing this as a permanent policy, alongside provisions for safety and training,” Casar said.

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