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Austin Community College Proposes New Construction Requirements, Fails to Consult Contractors

On Monday, October 6th, the Austin Community College Board of Trustees will consider a resolution addressing wages and working conditions on future construction projects included as part of a combined $386 million bond package. Bond packages for new construction typically enjoy broad and strong support from our industry, but the Austin AGC is troubled by certain provisions that will impact the day-to-day operations of companies performing the work.

What’s even more problematic is that the resolution appears to have been crafted without input from a broad range of the local construction community. This is especially puzzling when you consider that the owner in this case has the word “community” as part its official name. To be fair, ACC Trustees have a priority focus on local education, not construction, issues. But for that specific reason, it is critically important that the board hear from the construction community as a whole and not simply one facet of the industry before making a decision that greatly impacts local contractors. The Austin AGC, comprised of 250 Austin-area construction company members, only learned of this resolution's specifics when published the week of September 29 as an item for the upcoming Trustees' meeting.

There is good news in this proposal. Several provisions in the resolution are things that the Austin AGC supports:

  1. Mandatory workers' comp coverage
  2. Pay by the hour/proper employee classification
  3. Safety training (such as OSHA 10) for workers and training (OSHA 30) for supervisors

We have consistently supported these as requirements, and we applaud the ACC Trustees for including them. These values constitute the heart of industry reform policies supported by many other stakeholders ranging from labor groups to contractors and building owners. The resolution also calls for good faith outreach to hire local workers, which is typically asked for in public procurement using local tax dollars and the AGC can support that as well.

On the subject of wages, this proposal reaffirms ACC’s historical support for Davis-Bacon wage standards and, given the past use of Davis-Bacon on Austin Community College projects, the Austin AGC is not against this provision.

Now let’s move on to the things that draw our concern.

The resolution requires good faith efforts to hire workers from “certified” local training schools. Our question is, what exactly is a “certified” training school? Is it training exclusive to labor unions? Is it local advocacy group training, including safety classes offered by the Austin AGC? Is it a City of Austin training program? Is it (or could it be) a training program for construction skills funded and housed at Austin Community College? Is it construction technology programs at Crockett and Lanier High Schools? Is it all of the above? What percentage of the workforce does ACC want from these training schools, and is it a reasonable expectation? These are just a few examples that illustrate the need to provide more specifics as to what contractors should expect.

Furthermore, and most troubling, is the resolution requiring that “Austin Community College will give worksite monitors designated by Workers Defense Project access to construction sites funded by the Bond Program to interview workers and ensure that Contractors comply with the law as well as the Better Builder program's certification requirements.”

The Austin AGC strongly opposes this provision for several reasons. First, there are facilities and operations department staff at ACC who should be designated with this responsibility as they are most closely involved with the day-to-day work on the jobsite. Second, we can see no reason that ACC would simply hand over the role of “worksite monitor” to one outside organization (and one with an expressed narrow focus only on low-wage earners) without seeking input on this decision from the general contractors and specialty contractors impacted.

Our question here is whether local construction companies are entitled to a fair hearing of their concerns about contractual obligations with public owners, or are they simply forced to accept whatever conditions are worked out in their absence between the WDP and Austin Community College. It is our hope and expectation that a community owner would listen to the concerns of the entire community – including contractors – before making such a decision.

At the very least, it seems a reasonable ask that the ACC Board of Trustees hold off on approval of this resolution until a meeting of various industry stakeholders can be convened to discuss its impact. After all, the bond election is still a month away and the construction projects won’t be put out for bid until next year. There is no need to rush this decision.

If there is a need to act on the provisions of agreement/neutrality at the October 6th meeting, then limit the resolution to those matters for now. I hope you will agree that organizations like ours that count 250 local company members - large and small general contractors, specialty contractors, suppliers, and service providers that employ roughly 10,000 people in the local workforce - should be entitled to a fair hearing beyond the short three-minute speeches that are allowed to be given at board meetings.

If you agree with our AGC concerns, please take a few minutes to send a message to the Board or to individual trustees via Rhonda Fenner.

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