1 February 14, 2014 Contact: For immediate release Emily Timm, WORKER FILES LIEN ON GABLES RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY A DAY BEFORE MAJOR PROTEST OVER DANGEROUS AND ILLEGAL WORKING CONDITIONS Workers Defense Project cites wage theft, lack of safety at Gables sites [Austin, TX] On Saturday, February 15 at 1 pm, two hundred workers and supporters from Workers Defense Project (WDP) will converge at Gables Park Plaza to call on Gables Residential to ensure that construction workers on their projects receive a fair wage and have safe working conditions. Gables Residential is an Atlanta-based company and a prominent luxury apartment developer in Texas. Its biggest market is Texas, with 53 of its 125 buildings located in the state. The CEO is based out of its Dallas office. Heriberto Mendoza, a painter on the unfinished Gables Park Tower project, filed a lien today on the Gables Residential property for unpaid overtime. The lien is a legal claim for unpaid wages that holds the owner legally responsible. He reported to Workers Defense Project that Flores Painting Services, a subcontractor on the Gables site, failed to pay him overtime since he began work on the project in early January. Lion Gables Residential Services, Flores Painting Services, and the general contractor Andres Construction Services are all named on the lien. Workers have also reported unsafe working conditions at Gables Park Tower: I ve worked in construction for 10 years, and I have never seen worse conditions than on Gables Park Tower, says Heriberto Mendoza, the worker who filed the lien on Friday. On all of Gables downtown projects in Austin, workers employed by a variety of subcontractors have reported widespread cases of abuse, including wage theft, failure to pay overtime, payroll fraud, denying workers rest breaks, and unsafe working conditions. Supervisors would mistreat us, making us work much longer than anyone should have to work without water. I saw several co-workers faint because they were made to work in 100 to 110 degree heat without water, said WDP member Filemon Salas about his time working on Gables Park Plaza in Salas was the main plaintiff on a wage theft lawsuit filed against subcontractors on the Gables site. Though WDP reached out repeatedly to Gables before this planned protest in previous years, in light of the recent call to action Gables met with WDP on Thursday February 13 th for an initial discussion. WDP will hand deliver a letter for Gables executives at the protest asking for action. WDP is asking Gables to join the organization s Better Builder program. The program calls for workers to receive a living wage, have safe working conditions, and for companies to invest in workforce training, said Emily Timm, Deputy Director of WDP. Local community partners including Apple, Foundation Communities, Pflugerville Community Development Corporation, and Saltillo Collaborative, are all committed to Better Builder program standards.
2 When we build, we want to make sure our workers are safe and receive a fair wage. That s why we re proud to participate in Worker Defense Project s program, said Floyd Akers, Executive Director of the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation. We need to set the bar higher for developers across Texas so that companies that prove to be good stewards can compete, and the workers building our communities have the wage and safety protections they deserve. Companies that come to Austin should know that we value our workforce and expect them to invest in our city and the people who build it, said Council Member Mike Martinez. Workers Defense Project is a statewide membership-based organization established in 2002 whose mission is to win better working conditions for Texans. WHAT: Protest at Gables Residential. WHEN: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 1 pm. WHERE: Gables Park Plaza, 115 Sandra Muraida Way, Austin, TX 78703; grassy area along Cesar Chavez directly in front of the unfinished Park Tower. VISUALS: Two hundred workers and supporters will be present including several workers from Gables sites in front of high-rise Gables construction project. Street theater, banner drop, and giant construction worker puppets. SPEAKERS: Jose Perez and Heriberto Mendoza (construction workers from Gables sites), Cristina Tzintzun and Patricia Zavala from Workers Defense Project, Reverend Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Michael King from IBEW, and a student from UT-Austin United Students Against Sweatshops. ###
3 Advocate Bios Emily Timm Emily is the Deputy Director of Workers Defense Project and joined WDP in She has worked with low-income workers in Maryland, Rhode Island and Texas for over 12 years as an organizer and advocate. Emily is a co-author of several studies on the construction industry in Texas including the recently released Build a Better Texas: Working Conditions in the Lone Star State. Build a Better Texas documented widespread safety and wage violations in the Texas construction industry and the social costs of those violations for working families. Emily currently oversees WDP s local and state policy and organizing campaigns. She works closely with WDP s construction worker members to advance our Build a Better Texas Campaign to win safe and dignified working conditions for the men and women who build Texas. Emily holds a B.A. in International Development Studies from Brown University. Mike Martinez City Council Member Mike Martinez has devoted his entire career to public service and working families. Before taking office in 2006, Council Member Martinez served as an Austin firefighter for 13 years and in 2003, was elected the President of the Austin Firefighters Association where he led a successful campaign to secure collective bargaining rights for Austin firefighters. He also served as the Chair of the Austin Firefighters Association Political Action Committee from , where he represented the interests of public safety professionals in elections and campaigns. Martinez was sworn in as a City Council Member on June 20, Reverend Jim Rigby The Reverend Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. A Texas native, Rigby attended the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In 2007, Rigby was named Texas Public Citizen of the Year by National Association of Social Workers for his work on gender, economic, and racial issues. Rigby has been involved in the worker movement for many years, through his work with the Religion and Labor Network and his longtime support of Workers Defense Project. In 2012, Rigby spoke at City Hall with members of Workers Defense Project, asking for decent working conditions, fair wages, and career paths for Austin's downtown construction workers. In a blog post, he stated, "Most of us would agree that it is wrong to rob a person at gun point but, for many, it is perfectly acceptable for businesses to regularly rob the poor in the form of wage theft." Michael King IBEW Member Michael King was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1961 and has been living in Austin since 85. As a 17-year long member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), King has played an active role in the local labor movement. He is currently the IBEW delegate to the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. Better Builder Bio Floyd Akers, Executive Director, Pflugerville Community Development Corp Telephone: Cell Phone:
4 Floyd was raised in San Antonio and attended the University of Wyoming where he earned an undergraduate degree in History as well as his Law Degree. He began his legal career in South Texas representing the Texas Department of Public Safety and became familiar with municipal law as an Assistant City Attorney in San Antonio. Floyd has served as City Attorney for the City of New Braunfels and as the Presiding Municipal Judge for the City of Bryan where he was also a member of the Brazos County Bail Bond Board. In 2003 Floyd became the first in house attorney for the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. Floyd, who previously served as the City of Pflugerville s City Attorney, became the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation in 2011.
5 Worker Testimony (Translated from Spanish) All worker spokespeople will be available for interview via their translator, Greg Casar: Statement of Jose Perez: When I first arrived at Gables Park Tower, I was excited to get a big job, but I didn t know the conditions I would encounter. We didn t receive rest breaks, even in scorching summer heat. Not receiving breaks made us tired, which meant we weren't able to do our work as well or as safely as we would have. Co-workers told me they fainted because they had no rest breaks and one cut their hand because they were so tired from not receiving a break. I reported not receiving rest breaks to the City of Austin in I found out that workers had already reported not receiving rest breaks a year before I made my complaint. After I reported not receiving rest breaks, my foreman singled me out and made me sign a sheet of paper stating that if I was late or missed work, that I would be fired. I did not see him ask anyone else to sign a similar paper. I witnessed the contractor cutting corners on safety. Normally, in all big construction sites there is someone who goes behind a machine that backing up with a flag to make sure no one is behind and gets run over. They only had one for the crane but not for any of the other machines. As a worker, I want to be able to go home safe to my family, with all of my limbs. We are asking Gables to agree to higher safety standards and pay us a living wage. Jose Perez has worked in construction for 15 out of the 16 years that he has been in Austin. He started out working as a carpenter building houses, but then began to work on commercial sites as a framer and more recently has been working as a glazier. In 2013, Perez worked as a glazier on Gables Park Tower for Tepsco Glass where he reports being denied rest and water breaks during the scorching summer months. As a member of Workers Defense Project, Perez knew that city law requires that workers receive water and rest breaks, so he decided to take action. He reported the illegal lack of rest breaks to the City of Austin in 2013 and was interviewed about the case by Univision. He has since been involved at Workers Defense Project in the Committee of Workers in Action and as a singer in the WDP Band. Perez currently lives with his wife and three children in North Austin. Statement of Heriberto Mendoza: At the beginning of this year, I got a commercial painting job at Gables Park Tower working for Flores Painting Services. I work 10 to 12 hours days and have not been paid overtime. Some of my co-workers work up to 70 hours a week but are not paid overtime either. Flores doesn t give us water, which is against the law.
6 I have been working in construction for 10 years, but Flores is only paying me $11 an hour without any benefits. Some people make as little as $9. It is difficult to survive on these low wages, especially since I and my co-workers are not being paid overtime. Everything is getting more expensive. My family depends on my wages here and in Mexico. Sometimes I can t make ends meet. Sometimes I have to choose between paying for gas or paying for food. I need gas to get to work, so I have gone hungry in the past. Sometimes I would save part of my small lunch to warm up again at dinner so I would have something to eat. It s just surprising; you never think you re going to get there. It feels so horrible and it feels like it can t get any worse. There have been unsafe working conditions at the site. I ve seen the cleaning crew working on the 10 th floor cleaning the balcony windows on six-foot ladders with no harnesses or safety equipment. This was happening even during the rain when it was slippery and wet outside. They could have easily fallen backwards to their deaths. I ve worked in construction for 10 years, and I have never seen worse conditions than on Gables Park Tower. Heriberto Mendoza is originally from San Luis Potosi and has lived in Austin for the past 15 years. For the past 10 years, he has worked in construction, specializing in painting. Statement of Filemon Salas: At Gables Park Plaza, supervisors would mistreat us, making us work much longer than anyone should have to work without water. I saw several co-workers faint because they were made to work in 100 to 110 degree heat without water. We also worked 10 to 12 hour days without being paid overtime. I would like Gables to ensure better treatment, better pay, and, most importantly, safety for workers on its sites in order to avoid accidents and deaths. Filemon Salas is a member of Workers Defense Project. He worked on Gables Park Plaza in He has lived in Austin for five years with his wife and six children.
7 Gables Residential Fact Sheet Company Profile Gables is a prominent developer that specializes in building luxury apartments nationwide. Gables Residential owns and operates 125 buildings nationally. Texas is their largest market with 53 buildings concentrated in Austin, Houston, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 1 The company has three offices in Texas located in Dallas, Austin, and Houston; CEO Sue Ansel is based in Dallas, Texas. Gables is a privately held REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). They were purchased by ING Clarion Partners in 2005 for $2.8 billion. 2 As of 2012, they were a portfolio company of Clarion Partners in venture with Silverpeak Real Estate (formed by the former management team of Lehman Brothers Real Estate). 3 Clarion Partners has $28.6 billion in total assets. Gables went private in 2005, and at the time the company was generating over $180 million in rental revenue each year and had 18,000 apartment units. Their overall revenue was $219 million. 4 Gables has grown exponentially since becoming privately owned and now has approximately 38,000 apartment homes under management. They currently have an estimated rental revenue of at least $393 million. 5 Each year in Austin, Dallas, and Houston, Gables builds at least one major luxury construction project in one of the three cities, and usually thousands of workers are building these sites through their subcontracting chain. Cases of Workplace Abuse (TO BE EMBARGOED UNTIL FEB. 15 th ) Workers employed by a variety of subcontractors at all of Gables downtown Austin projects have reported dangerous and illegal working conditions: almost $130,000 in wage theft, no rest breaks, no overtime pay, and unsafe working conditions. The following was reported to WDP: PARK PLAZA (115 Sandra Muraida Way, Austin, TX 78703): 15 workers were owed $76, for their work on Gables Park Plaza. In 2009, they worked 10-hour days Monday through Saturday and some Sundays. They were working on average 70-hour weeks but did not receive pay for all of these hours and received no overtime pay. Workers brought the wage theft to the attention of Gables in 2009, but the case was not resolved until 2 years later. There are other workers with outstanding claims. 1 Gables locations, Gables Residential Trust Form 10-K, FY Their last 10-K filing from FY 2004 shows shows 18,277 apartment units and $189,062,000 in rental revenue. This calculates to an average of $10,344 in revenue per unit in Currently they have 38,000 apartment homes. At $10,344 per unit, that means approximately $393 million in annual rental revenue. This figure is likely low since they expanded the most in their luxury apartments.
8 PARK TOWER (111 Sandra Muraida Way, Austin, TX 78703): A laborer working directly for Andres Construction reported he did not receive rest breaks to the City of Austin in Again in 2013 a different worker, Jose Perez, a glazier working for Tepsco Glass, reported not receiving rest and water breaks to the City of Austin. When the report was made public to Univision Television, Perez s foreman threatened his job. PRESSLER (507 Pressler Street, Austin, TX 78703): In 2009, four workers worked on both Gables 5th Street Commons and Gables Pressler installing cabinets. The workers were told they would make $80.00 per day and would be paid monthly. Two worked 111 days without being paid, one worked 155 and one worked 177 days without being paid. In total, the four workers were owed $32,730. Gables had their own supervisors on the Pressler site. 5th STREET COMMONS (1611 West 5th Street, Austin, TX 78703): In 2008, two workers welded balconies and did metal framework on Gables 5th Street Commons. They performed 124 and 136 hours respectively and were owed a total of $2,848, though they were each only paid less than $500. After almost a month of working without pay, the workers refused to work until paid and were fired. The workers were misclassified as independent subcontractors even though they were direct employees. Richard Ledesma, the contractor at AR Steel Fabricators, eventually agreed to pay them the entire amount in three payments over the course of a month. In 2009, the four workers who were also working at Gables Pressler were owed $16,447 for installing cabinets in 5 th Street Commons as well. This brings the total amount of wage theft from 5 th Street Commons to $19,295. WEST AVENUE (300 West Avenue, Austin, TX 78701): In 2013, several workers were told they would be paid $15 an hour. They worked 12-hour days for a week but were not paid after the work was done. One worker who was owed $1,162 came forward and was then harassed by his supervisor so much that he was forced to change his phone number. Low-Road Contracting Practices Gables is using a general contractor, Andres Construction, which has a previous record of safety violations. Andres Construction is currently the general contractor at Gables Park Tower. On a non-gables construction project at 21 Rio, Andres Construction was cited by with four serious violations by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the deaths of three Austin workers in Wilson Joel Irias Cerritos, Raudel Ramirez Camacho, and Jesus Angel Lopez Perez were working on the exterior of 21 Rio and the scaffold collapsed, causing workers to fall more than 100 feet to their death. Andres, the general contractor, was cited with four serious violations by OSHA for failing to have scaffolding and its components inspected by a competent person, failing to provide 6 OSHA Regional News Press Release: US Department of Labor's OSHA cites 4 contractors for alleged safety and health hazards following the deaths of 3 workers at Austin, Texas, worksite https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=news_releases&p_id=16971, Austin Chronicle The View From 21 Rio: Workers mourn and OSHA cites contractors in fatal accident,
9 adequate fall protection systems on scaffolds, and failing to train employees on the use of scaffolding systems. Other Reported Violations: Workers building Gables sites have regularly been denied workers compensation insurance and their right to overtime pay. Gables subcontractors failed to pay wages on time. Payroll fraud: Gables subcontractors failed to maintain a record of hours and pay as required by state and federal laws. Subcontractors often paid workers for fewer hours than they worked. On multiple properties, workers building Gables residences did not receive regular legally mandated rest breaks. Workers building Gables have regularly not had access to drinking water on the worksite. Insufficient bathrooms for the number of workers on the site. Lack of safety training. Workers were charged for necessary safety equipment ($100 for a harness), a violation of federal OSHA standards.
10 Better Builder Program Fact Sheet Construction is big business in Texas, employing nearly one in thirteen workers. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation with 137 newcomers a day 7 and an 11.6% boost in the population over five years. 8 Austin needs a strong, skilled workforce to keep pace with its growth. Despite construction workers valuable contributions to the industry and state s economy, they have not prospered as business has. WDP has been at the forefront of creating innovative strategies that partner with both the public and private sector to raise standards for workers and level the playing field for honest businesses to compete. The Better Builder program works with developers to ensure that workers can receive a fair wage, have safe working conditions, and earn a rewarding career in the construction industry. An Industry Problem Texas is the deadliest place for construction workers in the country. More construction workers die in Texas than in any other state in the country. Between 2007 and 2012, 678 Texas construction workers died from workplace injuries, compared with the second-highest number of deaths in California, 360, which had a larger construction workforce. 9 More than one in every five Austin construction workers has suffered an injury requiring medical attention. Only 49% are covered by workers compensation insurance. 10 Construction workers earn poverty wages and rarely have access to benefits. 52% of Texas construction workers have wages below federal poverty guidelines. 1 in 5 construction workers in Austin have suffered from wage theft. 11 Between 2005 and 2010, poverty wage construction jobs in Texas grew by 23%, while jobs that paid above the poverty line grew by only 1%, according to Census Data. In Austin, poverty wage construction jobs grew by 96%, while jobs that paid above the poverty line fell by 17%. 12 The vast majority of construction workers have never had formal training and are stuck in dead-end jobs. Only 23% of Austin workers reported having received formal craft training Austin Business Journal, 8 The Top 12 American Boomtowns, Bloomberg, 12-american-boomtowns.html#slide2 9 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries [ , fatal injury counts by state], US Department of Labor, BLS, accessed January 24, 2014, 10 Price, Amy; et al. Build a Better Texas: Construction Working Conditions in the Lone Star State. Workers Defense Project, January City break out data. 11 Price, Amy, et al United States Census, 5% sample, United States Census Bureau. Researchers requested data by job category for trades in vertical construction. 13 Price et al.
11 50% of Austin construction workers have never received a basic OSHA safety training. 14 Working with Business to Find Creative Solutions The Better Builder program guarantees: Safety training Workers compensation Inspections to ensure compliance with federal and local employment laws Fair wage floor (tied to fair market rent) Career paths for low-income communities, by encouraging contractors to hire disadvantaged local residents that have participated in workforce training programs How the Better Builder program works: 1) Developers make a firm commitment to Better Builder standards, and developers incorporate those standards into their construction contracts. 2) Construction contractors are required to implement standards with all subcontractors by developers. 3) Construction businesses compete on a level playing field, without lowering wages or risking worker safety in order to win construction bids. 4) Thousands of construction workers have opportunities for decent wages, safe conditions, and a career path. Track Record of Success Apple, Foundation Communities, Pflugerville Community Development Corp, and Saltillo Collaborative all adhere to Better Builder standards at their construction sites. The new Travis County and City of Austin economic development policies adopted in Fall of 2013 will require Build it Better standards on all future subsidized development in Austin. o Visa, National Instruments, Trammell Crow and Apple Inc. s new development in Austin totals $900 million and requires better wages and safer conditions for all workers, directly impacting 7,000 low-wage workers. o Violation of these worker protections could result in the loss of over $86 million in subsidies or public assets Price et al. 15 Visa: City of Austin Ordinance # Nat Instruments: City of Austin Ordinance # Trammell Crow: Austin Ordinance # Apple: City of Austin Ordinance #
12 The New York Times, August 10, 2013 The Workers Defense Project, a Union in Spirit, By Steven Greenhouse spirit.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx= fhxnw7hfulsdzywhweof0a *EXCERPT* As worker centers go, the Workers Defense Project in Austin has racked up an unusual number of successes. It has won more than $1 million in back pay over the last decade on behalf of workers alleging violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. A report it wrote on safety problems spurred the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate 900 construction sites in Texas leading to nearly $2 million in fines. And, despite a liberal image, the group made common cause with law-abiding contractors to persuade the state s Republican-dominated legislature to approve a law that made wage theft an employer s deliberate failure to pay wages due a criminal offense. The Workers Defense Project has just 18 employees, and its executive director, Ms. Tzintzún, 31, earns just $43,000 a year. But it managed to bring mighty Apple to the negotiating table. The group extracted a promise that construction workers on Apple s new Austin office complex would receive at least $12 an hour, not the more commonly paid $10 as well as workers compensation coverage. The workers compensation pledge was an important victory. The construction industry in Texas has a higher fatality rate than that in most other states, but Texas is the only one that does not require building contractors to provide workers compensation to cover an injured worker s hospital bills and disability benefits. We like organizing here in Texas, Ms. Tzintzún said. Things can only go up because working conditions are so awful. AS soon as word got out in March 2012 that Apple was planning to build a $300 million operations center in Austin, the Workers Defense Project sprang into action. Gregorio Casar, the group s business liaison his title might more fittingly be thorn-in-the-side learned that Apple hoped to receive tax incentives in exchange for promising to create 3,600 full-time jobs with salaries averaging at least $63,000. But Mr. Casar, a University of Virginia graduate who is the son of Mexican immigrants, assumed that Apple s construction contractors would pay much less than that. The typical wage for nonunion construction laborers in Texas is just $10 an hour about $20,000 a year. Relying on relationships that the Workers Defense Project had built over the years, Mr. Casar, 24, persuaded the Austin City Council to require Apple to hold talks with the group as a condition for $8.6 million in city tax incentives. (The group had previously persuaded the council to enact Texas first ordinance requiring rest and water breaks for construction workers.)
13 In these discussions, Mr. Casar demanded that Apple s construction contractors pay at least $12 an hour, provide safety training and workers compensation, and allow the group s representatives to go to the site to inspect working conditions. Like many companies, Apple resisted at first because they wanted total flexibility, Mr. Casar said. So the group turned up the heat. On March 22, just before the council s hearing on Apple s tax incentives, 100 protesters demonstrated outside City Hall. Inside the council chambers, Jose Nieto, a demolition worker affiliated with the Workers Defense Project, testified about how he had once nearly bled to death when a large mirror he was removing from a hotel wall broke and sliced into his arm. His hospital bill, which included multiple operations, was more than $80,000. He had no workers compensation to pay for the operations or support his family. Mr. Nieto implored the council not to grant Apple the tax incentives unless it accepted the Workers Defense Project s demands. It is in your power to prevent things like this from happening to other people, he told the council. Several weeks of negotiations ensued. Apple then under criticism for conditions at the Foxconn plants in China that build its products agreed to almost all of the group s demands. Apple is a strong supporter of workers rights around the world, Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, said recently. We ve had a productive dialogue with the Workers Defense Project since we first heard from them last year. We shared many of the group s goals. Ms. Tzintzún has an explanation for these victories. We make it very hard for people to oppose us publicly, she said. We know what we re asking for is the bare minimum, and we remind everybody of that. *END EXCERPT*
14 Council approves living wage requirement for incentive deals By: Jeff Stensland Time Warner Cable News 10/25/ :08 AM During a late night vote on Thursday, the Austin City Council passed new economic incentives rules. Construction workers have rallied for months for better wages in the city. The new incentives require companies wanting to open up shop or expand in Austin to pay all workers at least $11 an hour, and provide health insurance and domestic partner benefits. The vote was 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell dissenting. Labor advocates also wanted companies to be required to pay what are known as prevailing wages to construction workers. However, those wages could be exempt in some cases. "The companies that are coming here are receiving millions and millions of dollars in tax breaks from our pockets, Patricia Zavala with the Workers Defense Project said. We feel the least they could do is invest in the local community and help to stimulate economic growth by paying prevailing wages." The mayor says Austin s inked 15 economic incentive deals in the past 10 years. Four of those have been in the past two years.