Mayor: Use wage floor as guide­line

Cham­ber

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - B Con­tact Kirk Laden­dorf at 445-3622. Con­tact Brian Gaar at 912-5932.

ated by Visa is ex­pected to av­er­age more than $113,000. The ques­tion was about the con­struc­tion jobs needed to re­fit an ex­ist­ing build­ing at 12301 Re­search Blvd. that Visa could use for the project.

“In the last cou­ple of days, they (Visa ex­ec­u­tives) were very thought­ful about it,” Farmer said. “Once Visa said they would ac­cept the $11 as the min­i­mum wage rate, that drained most of the con­tro­versy out of the deal.”

Brad By­ers, head of real es­tate fa­cil­i­ties for Visa’s Amer­ica’s re­gion, said his com­pany de­ter­mined that the con­struc­tion wage floor would not cre­ate a “sig­nif­i­cant im­pact” on its project’s con­struc­tion costs, be­cause it would move into an ex­ist­ing build­ing in Austin.

But By­ers noted that Visa would not have of­fered a wage floor if it had planned a new build­ing for its project, be­cause in that case the $11-an-hour wage “would have been very im­pact­ful on the project in terms of the bud­get.”

Pre­vail­ing wage rates for con­struc­tion jobs vary widely, de­pend­ing on the job skills in­volved. Skilled con­struc­tion jobs in­clud­ing pipe fit­ters and elec­tri­cians have pre­vail­ing wages that are well above the pro­posed $11 floor. But un­skilled jobs, such as com­mon la­bor­ers, can make far less.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Texas Work­force Com­mis­sion, en­try-level wages for con­struc­tion la­bor­ers runs slightly less than $9 an hour, while car­pen­ters helpers are paid an en­try level wage of $8.39.

Austin Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well said Fri­day that he wants to see an $11 wage floor be a guide­line set by the city and not a “gate­way re­quire­ment” for all projects.

Mak­ing it a re­quire­ment, Leff­in­g­well said, could cause Austin to lose out on eco­nomic devel­op­ment projects that could help more low­er­skilled work­ers.

But coun­cil mem­ber Mike Martinez said the spe­cial com­mit­tee he headed has re­com- mended re­quir­ing an $11-an-hour wage floor for projects that get eco­nomic devel­op­ment in­cen­tives, as well as health care ben­e­fits and domestic part­ner ben­e­fits for con­struc­tion work­ers as well as di­rect em­ploy­ees.

Un­der the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion, the city would re­quire the wage floor, but would re­view projects from com­pa­nies that wanted an ex­cep­tion.

The Visa agree­ment, Martinez said, “demon­strates that, in cer­tain cases, Austin’s val­ues can ap­ply and we can cre­ate ex­cep­tional jobs. Visa has al­lies here on the ground in Austin be­cause they self-im­posed what they didn’t have to do.”

Dave Porter, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for eco­nomic devel­op­ment at the Austin Cham­ber, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion will con­tinue to ar­gue against any re­quired wage floor in the weeks ahead.

“This is go­ing to be an is­sue go­ing for­ward,” Porter said. “There is a con­cern that we may not be com­pet­i­tive in the fu­ture (for new ex­pan­sion projects). There is a lot of con­ver­sa­tion go­ing on with the city on this.” egies for the Greater Austin Cham­ber of Com­merce, said the grant “val­i­dates what we’ve been say­ing” about Austin’s tech scene.

“I think it high­lights that Austin’s tech prow­ess can be ap­pre­ci­ated across the globe,” she said. “I think that’s a huge plus for Austin.”

Hur­ley, who moved to Austin in the mid-1990s to work for Ap­ple, cred­its the city’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ecosys­tem for his success.

“Austin’s an amaz­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “I’ve been so blessed with so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple that have looked at crazy ideas I’ve had and (have been) con­struc­tively crit­i­cal of them. That doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery­where.”

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