Better Builder Program & FAN Partnership

#1

Yesterday evening Natalie Gauldin, Brendan Wittstruck, and I had a conversation with Jessica Castilleja regarding how her organization, the Better Builder Program, could partner with FAN. She shared how the Better Builder Program works and we brainstormed ways we could team up to ensure that Austin grows into the inclusive and affordable city that it should be.

The Better Builder Program was developed by the Worker’s Defense Project, and is a state-wide, project based service that a developer can participate in that provides onsite safety monitoring and OSHA-10 training, ensures a living wage for construction workers, prevents wage theft, and ensures the contractor provides worker’s comp for injured workers. They also advocate for affordable housing within residential projects.

They have recently partnered with Evolve Austin and have been sought out by the City of Austin and Capital Metro on past as well as upcoming construction projects. Many developers have signed onto the program due to public demand, and Natalie expressed concern that it would have the effect of slowing the path to construction, an already incredibly lengthy, complicated, and expensive process. We asked if it was possible to look at it as a benefit for developers to participate in the program. Jessica was able to come up with a lot
of reasons why it would be beneficial for developers to participate:

· Participation in the program lowers the developer’s insurance rates

· Independent monitoring and safety training reduced onsite injuries and deaths and thus prevents costly lawsuits and construction delays

· No risk of lawsuits due to wagetheft

· No risk of liens on the property due to subcontractors not getting paid

They are also currently working on a program that would make the permitting process much faster for developers who work with them. Developers who participate in the Better Builder Program would get to ‘skip the line’ and bypass a lengthy wait to have their plans reviewed.

We talked about ways we could help each others’ organizations. Because the BBP is
project based, they need to know about next big construction project in order to talk to the developer early in the process. They also rely on public support to demand that developers participate in their program. Natalie had the idea to develop a citizen’s guide to new development, which could list questions to ask the developer as well as city officials. Among the list could be to ask the developer to participate in the
Better Builder Program.

They have a website which explains their mission and goals:

http://betterbuildertexas.weebly.com/better-builder-standards.html

And Jessica is also now a member of FAN. :blush:

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FAN Vote: 6 Proposed Resolutions
#2

More workers die in Texas than any other state. But I’m guessing the issue of basic worker’s rights such as safety and wages are not good reasons to support this project? And businesses should be rewarded by making the permitting process much faster for doing what MORAL and should already be required by law?

BETTER Builder BETTER Austin
http://betterbuildertexas.weebly.com

ARE WORKERS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD SUFFERING?

Neighborhoods across Austin are becoming home to dangerous and exploitative new construction sites. Irresponsible developers who refuse to provide safety training and just wages subject workers in our communities to injury, poverty, and illegal employer practices.

SUPPORTING GOOD,SAFE JOBS STARTS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Interested in supporting higher wages? Want to make sure developers do even more for your community? Ask your Neighborhood Contact Team to only endorse developments that meet Better Builder Certification. Or, you can call the Better Builder team at (512) 391-2305.

Through the Better Builder Program, Workers Defense Project honors real estate developers, public institutions, and companies who commit to investing in good and safe working conditions for construction workers. These developers – known as Better Builders – acknowledge that safeguarding the livelihood of the local construction workforce is critical to a sustainable and prosperous construction industry.

Better Builders seek to set a higher standard on their projects beyond minimum legal requirements, which often go unenforced.

Workers Defense Project is a non-profit and community center that advocates for better working conditions for low-wage workers, To learn more, visit http://www.workersdefense.org

Carl Webb

#3

Hello Carl,
Personally, I am in support of the Better Builder Program and believe that FAN can come up with many creative ways to support their endeavors to protect construction workers. I only tried to outline an argument that would preempt a lot of concerns I expected to receive about our potential partnership. I appreciate you underscoring the dire need for the organization and the great work that they do. I know that they have already and will continue to provide a much-needed service to protect our workers, and I’m excited for the opportunity to partner with them!

#4

I’m excited about the idea of bringing FAN together with Worker’s Defense Project and the Better Builder Program. I believe it’s critical that as we embrace the building that comes with a growing city we must help in working to ensure that this building does not come at a human cost. Further, part of the FAN vision is a livable and diverse city, and it is critical that the people building homes in Austin are also able to live in the city they are building.

Big thanks to @Kristen_A_Fox and @NatalieGauldin for being FAN ambassadors and for setting up this meeting!

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#5

Jessica has reached out to us with a mission–I’m posting her email here so that we can brainstorm ideas. My first thought is a letter to the Capital Metro Board.

Here’s her email:

Thank you again for taking the time to meet with me last Tuesday. It was a pleasure meeting all of you. I am very excited about WDP and FAN working together.

One of the projects we are currently working on is getting Capital Metro to adopt our Better Builder Standards on their construction projects, starting with the Plaza Saltillo project. You can learn a little more about the project here: http://www.capmetro.org/saltillotod/

The Capital Metro staff is on board with implementing these standards, but do not know to what extent. The Board is expected to vote on recommendations from staff in January. We have also attempted to work with the developer chosen, but have not made much head way with them.

We are asking for support to give the Board that extra nudge to strongly consider higher construction standards on their projects. Obviously, we would love to have FAN’s support in these efforts. I am attaching a couple of Chronicle articles to give you a little background on the developer.

Please let me know if you have any questions and if we can be of any help.

Thank you!


Jessica R. Castilleja
Business Liaison
Worker’s Defense Project

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#6

I am 100% in support of this cause and for writing a letter to the CapMetro Board (and maybe the Plaza Saltillo general contractor).

#7

Hello Friends,

I’ve drafted up a letter to the board of Capital Metro. I’m welcoming and encouraging edits as anyone sees fit.

Here it is:

RE: Plaza Saltillo Project

Dear Capital Metro Board of Directors,

The Leadership and members of Friends of Austin Neighborhoods would like to insist that the developers responsible for the Plaza Saltillo Project be required to participate in the Worker’s Defense Project’s Better Builder Program.

Members of FAN feel it is critical that as we embrace the construction that comes with a growing city, we must help to ensure that this construction does not come at a human cost. Furthermore, the FAN vision is a livable and diverse city, and it is essential that the people building in Austin are also able to live in the city they are helping to build through fair wages.

We are also greatly concerned about the business practices of Columbus Realty Partners. The President of Columbus Realty Partners is Robert Shaw, who also owns Amicus Partners, a development company that has already come under scrutiny for wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and an egregious (and illegal) lack of safety precautions or training for their construction workers at the Domain in Austin. The poor precedent set forward by the Domain project cannot be allowed to continue through Columbus Realty Partners at Plaza Saltillo. We believe that these appalling conditions can be prevented through participation in the Better Builder Program. We will not stand by while individuals with an already terrible track record for safety and welfare of construction workers are allowed to gain even more profit off of the backs of the workers that they cheat.

The bottom line cannot be more important than the safety and welfare of those workers who bring these projects to life. We as a city will benefit from the fruits of their labor, enjoying a new and exciting mixed-use development at Plaza Saltillo, and we want to stand with them to ensure that they are treated fairly.

Citizens of Austin want the Plaza Saltillo Project to be something we can be proud of—an example of the great work that can happen when public and private entities partner. Our excitement will wane with the realization that all stakeholders are not being treated fairly. The construction workers are stakeholders that have been ignored for too long, and
the way to ensure that their voices are heard is through the Better Builder Program.

Please require the Plaza Saltillo project to be a Better Builder Program Project.

#8

@Kristen_A_Fox, are you proposing a vote on this?

#9

The letter is pretty strongly worded against Columbus Realty Partners. Were any of the allegations against them found to be true? I’m not really familiar with what happened and I wasn’t able to find anything online except for the two Chronicle articles, but it doesn’t say how things turned out. I’d be afraid by including that paragraph it might make the letter sound too negative when the goal might be to sell a positive vision for the development. It looks like the developer is leaning towards joining this program? If so, they might also respond better to positive encouragement to join by different groups.

#10

Thanks for the suggestions. @NatalieGauldin, I do propose that we take this to a vote after sufficient conversation and any revisions that members find necessary.

Pete, I totally agree that the letter is very strongly worded, which is a bit out of character for me. As you can see by the first post on this thread, there are plenty of reasons that the developer might benefit from buy-in to this program, which I did not include in the letter, but could. I didn’t because the letter is addressed to the Capital Metro Board of Directors (who can require that all developers enroll in the program) and not to those developers themselves.

Regarding Columbus Realty Partners, there are no allegations against that company. The allegations are against Amicus, who used a contractor that “is subject of an open and ongoing federal investigation for unsafe working conditions” on the Domain project (quote is from the Director of WDP). The issue is that these two companies are run by the same man, Robert Shaw. That’s the connection. I do agree that the third paragraph can be made more even-tempered, but I hesitate to cut it completely. What are your thoughts?

#11

We need to get this to a vote ASAP. When do we vote on the CoA Bicycle master plan? Can we get this into the same Helios email? The Cap Metro board is supposed to bring this to a vote this month. Here is a much revised letter, much more friendly and hopeful.

Dear Capital Metro Board of Directors,

The Leadership and members of Friends of Austin Neighborhoods would like to insist that the developers responsible for the Plaza Saltillo Project be required to participate in the Worker’s Defense Project’s Better Builder Program.

Investing financial resources into independent, on-site monitoring is required to ensure that the BBP standards are upheld throughout the contracting chain. Though this does add cost to the project, finding and solving wage and safety issues through independent on-site monitoring can help reduce project delays, liens, and legal costs associated with poor working conditions, which would benefit the developer and the citizens of Austin in the long run.

The bottom line cannot be more important than the safety and welfare of those workers who bring these projects to life. We as a city will benefit from the fruits of their labor, enjoying a new and exciting mixed-use development at Plaza Saltillo, and we want to stand with them to ensure that they are adequately treated.

Citizens of Austin want the Plaza Saltillo Project to be something we can be proud of—an example of the great work that can happen when public and private entities partner. All stakeholders should be treated fairly, including construction workers, and the way to ensure that their voices are heard is through the Better Builder Program.

Please require the Plaza Saltillo project to be a Better Builder Program Project.

#12

Looks good to me. =)

#13

Kristen, thank you so much for putting this together. We really appreciate FAN taking the time to consider this and making it an important issue!

#14

Do you happen to know when the board meeting is, Jessica?

#15

Hi Kristen, the vote for these standards was moved to the February 22nd Board meeting. Workers Defense Project will be in attendance if anyone wants to come out and show their support!

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#16

Yes and YES! Can you share the details on the public forum? If not, please email me the time & location, I would be happy to join you in solidarity.

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#17

@Kristen_A_Fox Let’s get this event on the FAN event calendar. I’ve added you as a manager of the calendar. Let me know if you have any questions.

#18

Absolutely! The Board meeting is on February 22nd from 12pm-3pm at 2910 E. 5th St. Public comment is held at the beginning of the meeting, so that people don’t have to stay the whole time. I cannot express how much WDP appreciates the support of FAN. If Capital Metro approves our standards, so many construction workers will benefit. The construction industry in Texas is one of the most prosperous, but also one of the deadliest. A construction worker in Texas dies every 2.5 days. Workers also do not share in the prosperity. A study done in conjunction with UT found that 52% of workers make below poverty level wages. Better Builder Standards ensure that workers can go home to their families every night and that they can support their families. FAN’s support will show the workers building our city, that our community does care about them.

#19

Yes! The event is up on the calendar for everyone to see–here’s a link:

http://www.atxfriends.org/calendar/

I will be there.

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#20

Unfortunately, the vote has been delayed to March. We will keep everyone updated.

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