Category Archives: Local Business

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.

Kroger’s, Macy’s Opposed Equal Pay Law; Sen. Garcia Cancels Macy’s Appearance

It was quite disappointing to hear that two of my favorite stores, Kroger’s and Macy’s, lobbied and sent a letter to Rick Perry asking him to veto the Equal Pay bill passed by a bipartisan Texas Legislature. Rick Perry responded by vetoing the bill.

The bill, authored by State Senator Wendy Davis and State Rep. Senfornia Thompson, would have given legal standing to women who are paid less for doing the same job as a man.

Progress Texas is asking Texans to sign a petition and to join a boycott of Kroger’s and Macys until they reverse their position on the Texas Equal Pay Law.

Your opposition is infuriating. It is shameful that while you are busy convincing Moms and Millennials to spend money on clothes and lunch boxes at back-to-school sales, you are advocating behind their backs to deny women equal pay for equal work.

In response to the news of Macy’s involvement, State Senator Sylvia Garcia (Senate District 6) cancelled an appearance at Macy’s in the Galleria which would have commemorated the 2013 Back to School Sales Tax Holiday.

“While I strongly support the tax free weekend that allows parents struggling to provide clothing and supplies for their children before they return to school, I was dismayed to learn that Macy’s and Kroger would oppose equal pay for equal work.  As a co-sponsor of the legislation and supporter of  equal rights, I am supporting the call to boycott  until these stores  reverse their position and declare their support for equal pay, ”  stated Senator Garcia.

Additional background (below).

Continue reading

Mayor Signs Executive Order to Expand Access to Information for Diverse Communities

I got this in the inbox today and I must say that this will do a lot to make services more accessible to Houston’s diverse communities, especially in my part of town, where I’m pretty sure that those who speak what will be the five targeted languages live in the four-block area around my condo complex.

Here’s the Mayor’s plan (emphasis mine):

Houston Mayor Annise Parker today signed an Executive Order (EO) establishing a policy to improve the delivery of services to Houston’s diverse population.   EO No. 1-17 addresses the language barriers that many Houston residents face in accessing essential public information and services in the areas of public safety, health services and economic development.

“Whether it is to help plan for a hurricane or ways to reduce the possibility of becoming a crime victim, all Houstonians should have access to vital information that the City provides,” said Mayor Parker.  “This executive order will bridge the access gap by making it easier for residents with limited English proficiency to obtain essential public information and services.”

Over the next 60 days, all departments that provide essential services directly to the public will designate a language access coordinator charged with overseeing the development of a language access implementation plan.  City departments are to complete their respective implementation plans within six months.  The Office of International Communities (OIC), a division of the Department of Neighborhoods, will oversee and coordinate the planning process.

The language access order calls for the translation of essential public information into five languages other than English for which there is the greatest need among Houston residents.  OIC will conduct a data-driven language needs assessment, working closely with City departments, international community leaders and stakeholders and university-based experts to identify the five languages that will be adopted into the plan.  OIC will assist city departments in the provision of language access services to the public. 

The language access executive order is aligned with Mayor Parker’s commitment to strengthening the city’s economy and improving the quality of life for all Houstonians.

“We are the most diverse city in the country,” said Parker.  “That means we are a community of many languages.  This executive order challenges us to better serve our constituency, our global business community and visitors.  It’s a step toward making Houston one of the most inclusive cities in the world.”

For more information, contact OIC at 832-393-0855 or visit www.houstontx.gov/oic.

City Council Approves Group Home Rules; Favorable Toward Wage-Theft Rules

Well, a couple of items in which I’ve been interested saw some action this week at City Hall. City Council unanimously approved regulations for group homes which house 3 to 16 people.

According to Council Member Ed Gonzalez, these homes have not been regulated because they do not fall under the same guidelines as state-licensed care facilities. Usually, these group homes house individuals who have mental and physical disabilities or are elderly. And we have heard of recent hazardous situations recently which have endangered folks in these housing situations.

The ordinance enacted by City Council will create a basic registration process for Boarding Homes which will incorporate: access to the facilities by the Houston Police Department’s Mental Health Division, background checks for staff and caregivers, annual fire inspections, a mandatory fire evacuation plan, mandatory record-keeping, and a requirement to report criminal activity and deaths.

Council Member Gonzalez, who serves as Chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee stated: “City Council took a major step forward in helping to protect those that are often, our most vulnerable citizens. I am proud of the work that went into crafting a fair and effective ordinance that tackles the issue of unregulated care facilities head-on. I thank Mayor Annise Parker and her Administration, my colleagues on Council, and the many stakeholders who came to the table for their support, feedback, and assistance throughout this process.”

And as I mentioned earlier this week, the Fe y Justicia Worker Center lobbied City Council to enact a wage-theft ordinance. The proposed ordinance was presented to City Council and discussed by various stakeholders at a Public Safety Committee hearing, receiving favorable comments.

“Obviously, we do have a large amount of buying power, purchasing power, a large number of contracts, and, obviously, we want to make sure the city of Houston says, ‘We’re not going to be doing business with somebody that’s found to be guilty of this type of activity,'” Councilman Ed Gonzalez said.

[…]

Of the council members present at the public safety committee meeting, most welcomed the proposal. Councilman Jack Christie said, “It’s obvious something has to be done.”

Councilman James Rodriguez added, “Anybody that is going to cheat workers should not be allowed to do business or have city contracts.”

Jeff Nielsen, of the Houston Contractors Association, said much of the effectiveness of the proposal likely would rest with the coordinator position. Nielsen said he is concerned about fraud – the possibility of laborers walking off the job and claiming they were unjustly stiffed – but said those qualms likely will not lead him to seek changes to the proposal.

Fast-food worker Olga Castro said she works 65 to 75 hours a week without overtime pay.

“I’m not here because of the wages my employer owes me,” she said. “I’m here because of the impunity and lack of consequences for employers like this. Many employers are committing violations of the law without receiving any penalties.”

Stan Marek, of the Marek Brothers Co. Inc., and a Greater Houston Partnership board member, said most Texas construction workers are paid in cash and get no worker’s compensation. He said the proposal should ask more of contractors.

“This is happening in my industry, and I’m ashamed of it,” Marek said.

Let’s hope it gets voted out of committee and placed on the Council’s agenda sooner and not later.

I did my part and sent a letter to my district member of City Council, Mike Laster, who was said to be iffy on the wage-theft ordinance. I hope the hearing provided him a basis on which to strongly support the ordinance.

You can send a letter to your council member, too–click here for info.

One thing is for sure, the workers who would benefit from this ordinance showed up to City Council for the hearing.

Workers who Support Down WIth Wage Theft Campaign