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Friday, March 25, 2016 by Eva Ruth Moravec

Council extends living wage to subcontractors

City subcontractors – such as airport food vendors and construction workers – will now be paid $13.03 an hour after City Council extended the city's living wage requirements on Thursday to everyone working on a city contract.

Two ordinances that closed the loophole that left subcontractors out of previously passed living wage requirements passed on 8-2 votes, with Council members Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman opposed and Sheri Gallo absent.

Alejandro Gutierrez with the Workers Defense Project told Council that it is low-wage employees who have built Austin's highways, buildings, infrastructure and schools.

The small increase "is essential. It is basic to our needs and our ability to sustain ourselves and this city," a translator said after Gutierrez spoke to Council in Spanish. "Our families – we live from check to check."

Zimmerman said that one thing he opposes is a statement in the ordinance claiming that expanding the living wage to subcontractors will lead to better work quality.

"This statement is absolutely not true," he said, explaining that he has had people do great work for him at below-market wages.

Zimmerman also opposed the definition of living wage, adding, "There are as many living wage numbers as there are people in this city. Some people say they can't survive on $25 an hour."

A half-dozen people spoke in favor of the changes, which now apply the living wage standard to all prime contractors and subcontractors.

Ofelia Medrano, also speaking through a translator, told Council that the wage increase from $9.15 an hour to $13.03 an hour would help her provide for her 7-year-old daughter.

As a cook for a food service company at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Medrano said she is proud to represent the city to guests traveling through town.

"Thank you for making sure the living wage applies to all of us," she said.

Mayor Steve Adler said that the measure addresses the city's affordability crisis and can take a substantial step toward helping the workers who are most at risk.

The ordinance was one of several proposed by Council Member Greg Casar meant to address employment in Austin. After hearing from Gutierrez – who was flanked at the podium by supporters – Casar said the measures particularly would help the "working-class community" in his own District 4.

"This is best for our taxpayers and for the community," Casar said.

Photo by skeeze made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Greg Casar: Austin City Council member for District 4

Living Wage: The hourly rate an individual must earn to pay for themselves or their family. In Travis County, the living wage for one adult would be $10.97, according to the MIT living wage calculator.

Workers Defense Project: A nonprofit advocacy group that provides resources to ensure low-income workers fair employment.

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