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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Council denies White Lodging’s request for prevailing wage rule changes
Early Friday at the end of a lengthy hearing, the Austin City Council decided unanimously to enforce the prevailing wage agreement originally made with White Lodging two years ago without either a motion or a vote.
Council Member Mike Martinez first made a motion to enforce the original agreement but Mayor Lee Leffingwell pointed out that there was no need for a motion to do that.
Assistant City Attorney Cindy Crosby then explained that if Council took no action, staff would enforce the ordinance as it was originally written.
The Council’s action – or lack thereof – reinforced what they said was the original interpretation related to $3.8 million in fee waivers set aside to lure the development firm White Lodging to build a new downtown convention center hotel. By taking no action, Council empowered city management to seek repayment of development fees waived so far for construction of the JW Marriott Hotel on
On Thursday, the Workers Defense Project marshaled a large coalition to speak in favor of revoking the incentives granted to White Lodging. With the item beginning just shy of 11pm, Mayor Leffingwell limited public comment to 30 minutes per side.
The action came after months of pressure from Workers Defense. Indeed, though it appeared that White Lodging might have had Council votes to retain its incentives as late as Monday, Workers Defense partisans apparently made a very strong case in the days before Council action.
Workers Defense Business Liaison Gregorio Casar laid out his case again for Council members. As part of the incentives deal, Casar said that White Lodging agreed to pay construction workers on the project a prevailing wage. In subsequent communications, however, he said city staff – in the person of former Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza – signed off on an interpretation of prevailing wage that allowed White Lodging to average wages to get to that figure.
That, argued Casar, was an incorrect interpretation of what a prevailing wage is. Casar told Council members that he’s since spoken to Garza and that “it still appears that he does not understand what happened.”
White Lodging presented its own union representatives. Jeremy Hendricks of the Laborers’ International Union cast the firm’s interpretation of prevailing wage in an alternate light. Hendricks argued, as White Lodging has previously, that the company’s read lifted the lowest paying up by as much as $4 an hour (from $7).
Veteran Minority and Women Business incentives consultant Cloteal Haynes stressed the commitment that White Lodging made to those goals. “This company is supporting locally-owned minority and women businesses,” she said.
White Lodging Investments President and CEO Deno Yiankes did his best to stress that the deal and the company’s subsequent execution of it was not pursued in bad faith. He echoed Hendricks’ notes about lower-paid workers.
As for the prevailing wage definition, Yiankes pointed to what he called “a very confusing” city policy on the issue. Yiankes said that
White Lodging then proceeded with the project, Yiankes said.
Yiankes said, given all of that, he found himself wondering “why isn’t City Council doing what they said they would do?”
Later he drove the point home: “It’s been a two-year mess, but that doesn’t change the intent one ounce,” he said.
Construction of the new hotel, a JW Marriott located at
White Lodging representative Richard Suttle told In Fact Daily that he and his clients “were going to be looking at all of our options.”
“We’re disappointed,” Suttle added.
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