An hour before the Austin school district’s board meeting began last night, more than fifty labor advocates were crowded in the courtyard outside, chanting, with handmade signs. By the time doors opened, the crowd had doubled.
After nearly four hours of deliberation, the crowd got its wish and erupted in cheers. In a 5-4 split vote, the board voted to adopt federal prevailing wages for workers on upcoming construction projects at Austin schools.
The new rates will increase hourly wages for some workers, like electricians and security technicians. But for others, it will decrease the minimum wage—general laborers will earn less than $8/hr under the new wages.
Trustee Cheryl Bradley voted against the federal rates, which are dictated by the Davis–Bacon Act, claiming that unskilled labor would earn less than a living wage.
“You’re not going to be buying food for your family on $7.75 an hour,” Bradley said. “You’re not going to be paying rent. You will be on government subsidy, but you will not be self-sufficient.”
AISD had been using the same wage rate standards since 2005. Supporters of the new wages say that the new standards will provide consistency and constant review, despite the wage decreases for some workers.
The board also voted to examine offering a minimum wage of roughly $11 for workers whose wages were lowered under Davis–Bacon.
The new wage rates come as AISD prepares to spend $490 million in bond projects, more than 70% of which is marked for repairs and renovations to aging buildings at every school in the district. The remainder will go toward technology, transit, and energy-efficiency upgrades.
Travis County and the city of Austin already use federal wage rates.