Category Archives: Local Business

12/8/2016: Panel Discussions on US-Mexico Business Environment

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Rally to Raise Houston – Friday May 27

seiujanitorsTen years ago, Houston Janitors won a courageous battle for better wages and working conditions. Ten years later, the Janitors are fighting to to get ahead and to achieve a new contract with major office building owners to contract with better paying contractors.

Members of the SEIU invite all of Houston to join the Houston Janitors as they as they come together to fight for dignity, respect, and fair pay.

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016 at 4PM

2000 Post Oak Blvd., Houston, TX 77056 

The facts are these. 30% of workforce makes less than $12/hour. Union janitors make an average of $9.35/hour. And Janitors in other cities make more, while rent for offices are less than what Houston building owners make.

IF THE CONTRACTORS WIN

  • Wages as low as $29 a day

  • No guaranteed wage increase

  • No affordable benefits

  • No vacation time

  • Seniority is not recognized

  • No paid holidays

  • No way to solve job problems

IF WE STAND UP FOR OUR UNION

  • Wages at least $9.35/hr

  • Guaranteed yearly wage increase

  • Affordable health care when you work 30+ hours

  • 1 week vacation/year

  • With seniority, up to 2 weeks vacation

  • 6 paid holidays

  • Regular way to solve job problems

Central Business District Office Rents and Union Janitorial Wages

City CBD

Rental Rates ($/sq ft)

Janitor Wages ($/hr)

Houston

41.12

9.35

Seattle

39.12

15.75

Chicago

36.79

16.76

Denver

34.21

12.60

San Diego

29.28

11.65

Philadelphia

28.19

16.89

Minneapolis

27.18

15.12

Detroit

20.64

11.97

Source: JLL quarterly office statistics reports (2015 Q4), SEIU contracts.

3rd Centavo ~ Tameez: Give Up The Green

My friend, Mustafa Tameez, among the best political strategists out there and whose opinion I trust, had a pretty thought-provoking piece in the Texas Tribune’s Tribtalk. It’s about giving up grass. No, not the one for funny cigarettes, but the actual stuff some of us have in our front yards.

We clip it, bag it, throw it away, feed it, love it, hate it, fight with it, protect it, brag on it and curse it. Our lush green lawns suck up a preposterous amount of our time, energy, money and water supplies. That’s why Texas — still facing major water woes — is the perfect place to open a national discussion on the need to give up this ridiculous obsession.

Lawn care is big business in the United States. According to Ted Steinberg, the author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, Americans spend a massive $40 billion on their lawns every year. Texas, famous for its big suburbs full of big homes surrounded by big lawns, surely makes up a large portion of that total.

The sheer volume of water used for lawn upkeep is even more incredible. According to a Texas Water Development Board study, 259 Texas cities between 2004 and 2008 used an annual total of about 96.7 billion gallons of water outdoors — 80 to 90 percent of which is estimated to have been used to maintain lawns and plants. To put that into perspective, picture all the water that runs over Niagara Falls during a 40-hour workweek. Now imagine that same amount poured into our yards. Just in Texas.

This tremendous wastefulness has continued during a time of scarcity. Texas, already drier than most of the rest of the U.S. to begin with, is in the middle of one of its worst droughts in history. But the lawn care industry is humming along and, along with agriculture, remains a major source of water consumption. (Of course, we don’t eat the grass; it goes into a landfill, but not until after we’ve dumped an estimated 22 inches of water on it, according to the Texas Water Resources Institute.)

In many ways, Texas has adeptly handled water shortages in recent years. Cities like San Antonio are leading the way in municipal conservation efforts, and Texas voters in 2013 overwhelmingly approved a plan to take $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to fund water supply projects. We’re faring considerably better than states like California, where several communities are on the verge of running out of water, and other parts of the world like China.

Still, we drop enough fresh, potable water into our yards every day to make T. Boone Pickens blush.

We must cast aside our vanity-fueled insistence that lush lawns are a fixture of our modern lifestyle. There’s no good reason to plant thirstier varieties of grass, like St. Augustine, instead of hardier types like native buffalograss. Incorporating xeriscaping, or dry landscaping, into more lawns would also help reduce water use.

If Gov. Rick Perry can talk about marijuana in the same tones as President Obama, surely we can have a meaningful conversation about the other kind of grass, too.

Having visited Santa Fe, NM a few times, it was easy to become a fan of xeriscaping and dry landscapes. I guess my biggest concern would be the hit to landscaping companies, especially, their base of employees. Then again, some of these estate-sized lawns who suck up the most water would still have similar management needs. The biggest challenge would be a culture change of epic proportions to support such an idea. Thus far, the threat of water shortages and drought have yet to make people think.

Boycotting Buc-ees

I guess there’s a movement going on now that Congressman Joaquin Castro made it known that Buc-ees is no longer on his list of stopping points on the way to anywhere in Texas.

I can’t blame him. When a lovable looking beaver is pictured with the guy who gets off on dehumanizing immigrants, well, there’s no doubt that those big white beaver teeth are now tainted with the hatred of Dan Patrick and other like-minded bigots.

The Buc-ees corporation is quick to point out that the owners are the Patrick endorsers and not the corporation itself. I guess, in this case, corporations aren’t people? Anyway…

[Update:  If the corporation isn’t supporting him, how does the use of the beaver not say “corporate endorsement”?]

The bottom line is that when the Texas Farm Bureau has something to say in defense of agricultural workers who are usually undocumented, then it is safe to say that Dan Patrick is way off the mark on this issue; and, if anything, he isn’t really supportive of Texas agriculture.

Kudos to the Congressman for standing up against the immigrant bashers. And kudos to all those other Texas elected officials who have joined the chorus, too.

Tweet of the Day: Payday Lending Ordinance Passes

I’ll give the big prize to Mike Morris of the Chron.

PDiddie has more.

Council Should Vote For Payday Lending Regs

It’s just the right thing to do. But if there are members of City Council who want to talk about “free markets” or claim they haven’t heard anything from the community, Lisa Falkenberg at the Chron has a hard-hitting article this morning, including quotes from those affected by the predatory lending practices of the industry. And then this.

Guerrero said it never occurred to her to call her councilman: “I just never thought the City Council was involved with, you know, all these little loan places out there.”

I asked the grandmother the same question: Why hadn’t she complained to her councilman about her struggles with the loan companies?

“The truth is,” she told me, “I’ve never had anybody like you come up to me and show some kind of interest. I didn’t know there was somebody out there who had somebody’s back. There’s a lot of questions that we the people have. But there’s nobody out there to hear us.”

Do you hear them now, Councilman Rodriguez?

C’mon, this is a financial issue for most families, why would most think about going to their Council member for help? A State Rep., maybe, but it’s obvious that some State Reps have been influenced by the same lobbyists and PACs, so, they probably would have met the same walls. That said, as Falkenberg mentions, the lack of movement by the Texas Legislature has now placed the opportunity to do something about this problem in the hands of City Council members, thanks to Mayor Annise Parker.

There are other members of Council who might use terms like, “personal responsibility” to describe those who cannot get ahead of these loans. But the practices, as described by Falkenberg and those interviewed, say much about the industry as it is today and how the loan process is designed to do exactly what it is doing to families. All a politician who is interested in “industry” dollars for a 2015 run for something has to do is open their eyes–or take off the blinders.

When I went off to college, my parents would worry about my finances at least a few times a year and wanted to make sure I had a few bucks in my pocket–usually as I waited for my grant/loan check to be released. So, they’d visit the local “loan company”–a pawn shop and short-term loan place. Everyone in town knew him as “El Pat,” a white dude who built his business and relied on the Chicanos in the town. High interest? Sure. Predatory? Certainly not how things are today. Then again, we’re talking about the late 80s. Years and years of Republican promotion of the “free market” have allowed the industry to run amok.

Are these businesses needed? And will these businesses still make sizable profits–even enough to pay for an extra lobbyist–with these regulations? Yes to both.

So, the smart thing is to simply vote yes–or at the very least, allow an up or down vote.

Kuff has some background. Texpatriate supports the regs, too.

Another Delay for Payday Lending Regs

Looks like a payday lending ordinance was delayed for a week at Houston City Council by Andrew Burks and Jerry Davis today after they tagged it, as reported by Laurie Johnson at KUHF today. The bigger story is how it might be tagged again next week because CM James Rodriguez was absent this week.

Mustafa Tameez is a political analyst who knows the ins and outs of City Hall.

“When something comes for a vote on city council, councilmembers have the right to tag that and what that means is that the vote is delayed for a week while they get further information. If a councilmember is not present during that tag, they have a right to tag it the following week.”

And that’s where things get interesting.

This is probably a good time to point out that Tameez has a horse in this race: he’s a consultant for the coalition of organizations that want to pass the new regulations.

“The rumors in City Hall are that Councilmember James Rodriguez wasn’t here today because it gives him the ability to tag this next week when he’s here.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well, next week’s meeting is the last meeting for city council this year. And as of next year, there’ll be a whole new city council. The industry doesn’t have the votes to oppose this payday lending ordinance, and so there are rumors running rampant around city hall that this is a tactic being used. It’s a Washington D.C.-style tactic.”

Rodriguez who has been quite vocal against the ordinance had this reaction.

“It’s a councilmember’s prerogative to tag items, it always has been.

The Mayor, though, states she’ll pass it one way or another.

“He has the ability — through procedural moves — to throw it into the next calendar year. But I fully expect to have it passed in January if it doesn’t pass this calendar year.”

So, if Rodriguez delays it again next week, rather than allow an up or down vote, it won’t be up again until January 8.

Oh, to be a payday lending lobbyist at Christmas time.

Texpatriate has more.

Mayor Parker Proposes Payday Lending Regulations

This is something I had been awaiting for a while. Here are the specifics.

With support from other major Texas cities and numerous advocacy groups, Mayor Annise Parker today unveiled proposed regulations for payday lending in Houston. The mayor’s plan establishes minimum business practices for payday lending institutions and mirrors ordinances previously adopted in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and several smaller Texas cities.

“I had initially favored a Houston-specific measure, but decided that joining with other Texas cities in a united front on this issue is the best way to send a strong message to the Texas legislature,” said Mayor Parker.  “Lenders deserve to make a profit on their investments, but not by charging astronomical interest rates to desperate consumers who have nowhere else to turn for emergency financial assistance.  The statewide model I am recommending for approval by Houston City Council achieves this balance.”

Payday and auto title loans are high cost, small-dollar loans offered to individuals without credit checks and little consideration for their ability to repay. The initial term is typically two weeks to one month, with the term usually determined based on the borrower’s pay cycle. A borrower who fails to make a payment on an auto title loan could wind up losing his means to get to work and take his children to school.

Under existing Texas law, there is no limit to the fees that payday lenders and auto title businesses can charge and no limit on the number of times they can charge high-fees for essentially the same loan – often trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt where they are never able to pay down the loan.  For example, a fast cash payday advance of $500 that is rolled over five or more times could wind up costing $1200 or more.

Houston’s proposed ordinance would help alleviate this problem by:

  • Requiring payday loan and auto title loan businesses to register with the city annually
  • Limiting payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income
  • Limiting auto title loans to three percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value, whichever is less
  • Limiting single payment loans to no more than three refinances or rollovers and installment loans to no more than four installments
  • Requiring each installment, refinance, or rollover payment to reduce the total principal owed by at least 25 percent
  • Defining a rollover or renewal as a loan within seven days of the previous loan
  • Requiring loan agreements to be written in easy-to-understand language
  • Requiring contact information for nonprofits offering financial literacy and cash assistance

This sounds OK to me. There’s no doubt that folks have a need for emergency loans–heck, I’ve been there as a college student awaiting the arrival of the student loan check with rent due a week before disbursement. And as a college student, there’s no doubt that there was an uneasy feeling that one may  lose a crappy, yet running, vehicle.

That said, there’s also some responsibility on the part of the borrower, but I think this proposal provides for a good shot at fairness for all.

Senator Sylvia Garcia had this to say:

I applaud Mayor Parker and the Houston City Council for presenting a package of payday lending regulations to protect our citizens from unscrupulous payday lenders. The proposed package is modeled after an ordinance that was passed by the City of San Antonio and other major urban cities. I look forward to supporting Mayor Parker and the city council’s efforts to pass a Houston ordinance as quickly as possible.

So, let’s hope this gets passed in December.

Down With Wage Theft Rally – 9/19 [HOUSTON]

 

 

wagetheft

Where Are We On Wage Theft?

My friend Texpate gave us an update from what appeared in the Chron on the latest regarding the proposed wage theft ordinance. Texpate seems to think that the ordinance is on life-support, even in its watered down state. Still, the Chron didn’t provide much information about others on Council who are against it, as Texpate reminded us.

I tried to get some more quotes out of Morris vis-a-vis specific stands by other Councilmembers, but was unsuccessful. That being said, I suspect that other right-wing Councilmembers assisted in piling onto this measure. These would include people like Jack Christie, Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington.

Unfortunately, my own Council Member Mike Laster seems to also be looking out for “business interests” while his own council district more than likely has the most workers in the city who would benefit from the ordinance. There’s no doubt the district has workers who are exploited.

As a constituent, I e-mailed my thoughts that he should support the ordinance back on July 22.

Councilmember Laster,

I write to request that you support the proposed wage-theft ordinance which will be considered by the Public Safety Commission on Tuesday. 

Wage-theft is nothing new, particularly when targeted at immigrant communities–the very type which reside in our District J. Whether it is small businesses, corporations, or even government contractors, there is a rampant scourge of wage-theft in our community. Organizations, such as Fe y Justicia Worker Center, work tirelessly every day to collect back pay on behalf of workers. A strong ordinance, such as that which is proposed, will go a long way at stopping businesses from taking advantage of workers. 

All workers and all families deserve a shot at prosperity in our wonderful city. I would appreciate it if you would join your colleagues who support the proposed Wage-Theft Ordinance. It is time to stand up to unscrupulous businesses for the good of our community.

Simple and to the point, right? Well, I’ll overlook the fact that I didn’t find a response in my inbox, but I will still hold out some hope that he will do the right thing and support the wage theft ordinance. Or, at least give a public, quotable answer as to why he does not support it.