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Council OKs resolution encouraging high wages for green-biz hub

Friday, April 15, 2016 by Jack Craver

City Council approved a resolution Thursday prodding companies that seek to participate in a soon-to-be-constructed hub for green businesses to pay good wages and respect the right of workers to unionize.

The measure, introduced by Council Member Greg Casar, was criticized by opponents for being sprung on Council without prior public input from citizens or businesses that might be interested in bidding for contracts at the [re]Manufacturing Hub, which will be housed at 10108 FM Road and feature businesses that reuse material that has been diverted from the city landfill as a result of the Zero Waste Master Plan approved by Council in 2011.

The resolution directs the city manager to develop a solicitation process that would show preference for businesses that hire workers from low-income areas as well as employees who have graduated from local apprenticeship programs. It also states that the process should favor contractors that are Better Builder-certified based on the wages and benefits they provide, as well as businesses that agree to “labor peace” deals. In such deals, the employer agrees not to interfere with potential unionization efforts, and the employees commit not to strike.

Council Member Ora Houston said she was forced to oppose the measure after receiving complaints from businesses in her district that did not get to voice their thoughts on the proposal. Council Member Sheri Gallo echoed those concerns, saying that she worried about Council’s commitment to transparency.

The most vociferous criticism came from Council’s two most conservative members, Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair, both of whom suggested that a directive to city staff to favor contractors that commit to certain wage standards or environmental or labor practices could come at the expense of taxpayers.

“I see no statement in here about how our taxpayers will be protected,” said Zimmerman, who suggested that encouraging higher wages would simply lead to contractors demanding more money from the city to do projects.

Troxclair wondered whether the resolution’s focus on certain issues meant that other factors important to selecting a contractor would become less of a priority. “Does that mean that because it’s not mentioned here that really important financial details wouldn’t be given the same weight as demonstrating environmental stewardship?” she asked city attorney Cindy Crosby, who assured her that a contractor’s financial stability would always be taken into account by the city.

Troxclair further argued that such guidelines could “come at a cost of disenfranchising our small and minority businesses,” which she said more often have trouble meeting tough wage and labor requirements.

Zimmerman also targeted the “labor peace” provision of the resolution. “It looks like we’re writing in a preference for labor unions,” he said. “Isn’t this kind of begging for a lawsuit from the right-to-work organizations?”

Casar acknowledged that the resolution did not go through all of the typical channels of public scrutiny but said he was forced to offer it for approval right away before the city begins its solicitation process later this month. He also said that Texas’ right-to-work law, which prohibits contracts between employers and unions that require workers to pay union dues, was irrelevant to the discussion.

“I think it’s totally appropriate to let people know what we’re looking for” in terms of wages and worker rights, he said.

Council Member Delia Garza concurred, saying that it was Council’s right to ask businesses seeking to turn a profit on city-owned land to provide “some community benefits.”

Reserving comment on the issue until the very end of the debate, Mayor Steve Adler said that the points about transparency and stakeholder input raised by Gallo and Houston made the vote a “tough one,” but that the “exigent circumstances” of the imminent solicitation process qualified the measure for an exception to the typical legislative process.

The resolution passed 7-4, with Houston, Gallo, Zimmerman and Troxclair voting no.

Photo by blahedo – Own work (photo by me), CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1379464

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