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Committee Chairman Discusses Proposed Wage Theft Ordinance [VIDEO]

Last week Houston City Council’s Public Safety Committee held a hearing to discuss a proposed city ordinance to eradicate wage theft in the Houston area.  The hearing included a presentation by Houston City Attorney David Feldman who explained the details of the proposal, and statements from members of the public who support it.  Following the hearing, Scott Braddock interviewed Ed Gonzalez, Mayor Pro Tem of Houston and chairman of the Public Safety Committee.  Read the following transcript of that interview, or watch the 4-minute video below.

Scott Braddock:  Talk a little about how this came about.  This has been something the people have been asking for – pleading for – for years.  Why now?

Ed Gonzalez:  We heard those concerns here at Council.  The mayor and myself had assured that we were listening.  We know the bureaucratic process can be slow at times, but we promise that we were listening and considering the feedback.  Attorney Feldman has been working very diligently on trying to wrestle with this, trying to find the balance between processes that may already exist and what the City could do as well.  That’s what brings us here today.

SB:  I imagine that the people who are guilty of wage theft are kind of slippery, so trying to figure out a way to go after them can be tough.

EG:  Exactly.  Part of what he is proposing allows for an educational process.  Many times employees don’t exactly know where to go and how to access the system, and perhaps because we get so many calls of various natures, we could be a point of contact, and we could then send them out to the respective paths that they may be able to take.

And then obviously we do have a large amount of purchasing power, a large number of contracts.  We want to make sure that the City of Houston is not going to be doing business with somebody who has been found guilty of this type of activity.

That’s it.  The City doesn’t want to be in business with anybody who is doing that, but also there is an attempt to keep people from doing business in the City regardless, if they have been guilty of wage theft.

That’s what it sounded like.  We are going to review the proposal and get more clarification from the City Attorney as to beyond the scope of just City contracts.  There is a watch list that needs to put us on notice, because they could potentially at some point come forward for a contract.  We want to make sure that we are aware so that if it does come up that somebody can have eyes on it and make sure that we are not doing business with that type of firm.

What about the concern that the City would become bogged down in doing this?  The City Attorney said that we are trying to do this without setting up a new department, we are not setting up a new layer of government.  Basically it sounded like they are trying to latch onto the processes that are already there in place and use that as leverage against the companies.

That is exactly right.  We are not going to be a full blown investigative unit of any kind, a special division.   The proposal asks that we designate at least one individual within the City of Houston that could be a point of contact who could then use the existing resources to dole out information, do due diligence, see what is coming before the agenda and find any potential issues arising around wage theft.  We think it is a good starting point.  As you heard, we heard the term [wage theft] used a lot.  We feel this is a major step forward because nothing has been done, and much is needed.  We think what he is bringing forward is something reasonable, sensible, that if moved forward that the City could implement.  You don’t want to create something so big and unmanageable that we can’t execute it.

This plan came together fairly quickly, so what will happen now?

Well, the City Attorney was present and we heard from a large number of public commenters who offered unanimous support from what we heard today, so it will be something that will now be moved back to the administration, to the mayor’s office along with the City Attorney and some of the feedback heard from the public and from my colleagues as well.  We will consider next steps.  The likely next step will be to ask if there are any revisions that need to be done, do we need to strengthen or soften [the ordinance] in any way, or leave it as it is.  Most likely we will leave that to the city council.

So that will be a pretty aggressive timeline?

Yes, now that it has come forward and has been made public, we have had a pretty good opportunity for public comment, we will need for the mayor to determine a timeline, but it will very likely come before the city council soon.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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