Austin construction workers demand fair treatment from luxury living developer

More than 200 construction workers and their supporters on February 15 rallied in downtown Austin to demand that a developer of luxury living communities pay its workers a living wage and eliminate illegal and dangerous working conditions.

The rally took place near Gables Park Towers, a luxury living complex being developed by Gables Residentials, an Atlanta-based company owned by ING, a Dutch-based multinational financial services company.

“I’ve worked in construction for 10 years, and I have never seen worse conditions than on Gables Park Tower,” said Heriberto Mendoza, a member of Workers Defense Project, a local membership-based worker center for low-wage workers that organized the protest.

Mendoza filed a wage theft lien against Gables Residential, Flores Painting Services, a subcontractor for whom Mendoza worked, and Andres Construction Services, the project’s general contractor.

According to Mendoza, he has not been paid for overtime worked since he came on the job in January.

Gables Residentials is a big player in the development of downtown Austin, where luxury condo and apartment construction is booming.

Its other Austin projects have been the subject of worker criticism as well.

“Supervisors would mistreat us, making us work much longer than anyone should have to work without water,” said WDP member Filemon Salas, who worked on the construction of the nearby Gables Park Plaza in 2009.  “I saw several co-workers faint because they were made to work in 100 to 110 degree heat without water.”

Salas was the main plaintiff in a 2010 wage theft suit against Capoera Construction, a subcontractor, and Greater Metroplex Interiors, one of the contractors on the Gables Park Plaza project.

Gables was also the developer of 21 Rio, a luxury condo near the University of Texas where three workers died in a 2009 scaffolding accident.

Workers at Gables downtown Austin projects have reported nearly $130,000 in wage theft, no rest breaks (a violation of a city ordinance won as a result of a WDP campaign), 50 to 60 hour work weeks with no overtime pay, no safety training, and payroll fraud.

The rally on February 15 was the launch of a campaign to get Gables to join WDP’s Better Building program, said Emily Timm, WDP deputy director.

“The program calls for workers to receive a living wage, have safe working conditions, and for companies to invest in workforce training,” said Timm.

A number of organizations active in developing property in the Austin area have already joined Better Building including Apple, Foundation Communities, Pflugerville Community Development Corporation, and Saltillo Collaborative.

WDP had been trying unsuccessfully to talk to Gables for some time to get them to consider joining Better Building.

It was only after the February 15 demonstrations was announced that Gables agreed to a meeting, which was held February 13 to discuss conditions on Gables’ job sites.

“We need honest companies that will invest in our state and our workforce (and) not take advantage of our communities,” read WDP’s announcement about the rally. “Other developers have agreed to work with WDP to ensure good jobs for all workers. It is time for Gables to follow suit in improving the construction industry.”

WDP asked supporters who couldn’t attend the rally to tweet Gables and urge the company to support worker safety and a living wage.

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