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Contractor apologizes for racist remark at county meeting

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The contractor who used a racial slur against Latino immigrants during a Travis County-sponsored meeting last week is apologizing.

Aaron Cabaza, president of Aaron Concrete, sent an email to county staff on Tuesday afternoon expressing regret for his remarks at a stakeholders discussion focused on recommendations that would augment protections for workers on county projects.

According to several people present at the meeting, Cabaza referred to construction workers as “wetbacks.”

“I sincerely apologize for the very poor choice of language during that meeting,” Cabaza wrote in the email he sent to staff and forwarded to journalists. “I feel terrible that my comments have been hurtful to the Austin community. It is a community that I love to live and work in. I am Hispanic myself, and I employ many Hispanics in my company and they have all helped make Aaron Concrete a great place to work. We contribute so much to the Austin community through our hard work each day.”

Cabaza also offered to publicly apologize to the stakeholders group and the Commissioners Court.

“It seems I do need sensitivity training, as I did not realize how my comments would become so hurtful,” he concluded.

His email came hours after the Commissioners Court weighed in on the controversy.

At the beginning of the court’s regular Tuesday voting session, Commissioner Brigid Shea asked to address the issue. Because the topic was not on the agenda, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt offered to recess the session for 10 minutes to accommodate the members’ remarks.

“It is bothersome especially when I believe that we’re in a very, very enlightened community,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said. “And yet I think that people will slip here and there. And I don’t think it’s appropriate at all for anyone to call other people names.”

Commissioner Jeff Travillion also condemned Cabaza, saying that to call the term he used insulting would be an understatement.

“I think it reflects a dangerous and growing mindset that unfortunately has led from the top of our country on down,” he said. “From even our president’s office, from even our state Legislature at times. And I think we should take a strong stand against it.”

Shea echoed that sentiment. She also noted that the entire point of last week’s meeting was to discuss ways to improve conditions for construction workers.

“To see one of the employers using terms that lead you to believe that they think of these workers as less than human is just completely unacceptable,” Shea declared.

All three raised the idea of making some sort of official response to the incident. Travillion also suggested the development of staff guidelines, “so when that type of thing happens, there is a consistent and measured response to it,” he said.

Eckhardt said that county staff from the Human Resources Department and other divisions have been developing training sessions aimed at conflict avoidance and management among county workers. She said the court could take action on those proposed programs soon.

“These are difficult times in which we live,” Eckhardt said. “Let’s keep striving for something better, something more honorable for our kids and our kids’ kids.”

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