About 60,000 to 65,000 construction workers are on the job in the Austin area today. They are working on towers rising high over downtown, or on apartments and homes fanning out from the city.
Like most of the rest of us, the developers and builders, the ultimate bosses of those workers, retreated to the safety of their laptops on dining room tables in mid-March. As we did, the COVID-19 outbreak began to cast a lengthening shadow over Austin.
Kerry Tate sees a disparity in this.
She is a partner with Dawn Moore in Moore-Tate Projects + Design, which builds 10-12 homes each year with an average price of $950,000 in South Austin. Moore-Tate's workforce includes about 125 contractors and subcontractors, and Tate says 98% of them are Hispanic men.
"We encouraged workers to stay home without penalty of losing their place with us. And, if not, to be more aware, safe and take this more seriously than they seem to do. A few do. Most do not. They make it clear they are determined to work and will find it wherever they can, whether on our sites or elsewhere."
Yet they aren't really free to go home, says Tate. Construction workers live paycheck to paycheck. The White House has moved to restrict and reform immigration policies. According to Tate, Austin's construction workers are largely unprotected and "live in the shadows."
Although she is a builder, Tate has challenged her industry. She opposes action by the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) and allied groups in the construction industry that successfully petitioned Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse Austin and Travis County orders to shut down all but essential construction.
Tate, who is 65, is anything but a brick-thrower. While she is not a member of RECA, for years she was a central player in the Austin business world. She served as chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1996.
She does not argue with RECA's efforts to reverse city and county stop-construction orders. RECA is a lobby, and lobbying groups represent their members. Indeed, Tate says she is "awed" by RECA's effectiveness in securing the governor's favor.
Now, however, Tate wants the construction industry to use that same power on behalf of their workers. She wants RECA to lobby for legal protections for the immigrant workers who are so vital to the industry and to the prosperity of Texas.
"If I had things my way, I would compel RECA to use this moment to use the stroke [influence] just demonstrated," she says, "to make a meaningful change—to be relentless in proving we are powerful enough to help our workforce achieve legal status with a clear path to citizenship."
Tate's call comes as the University of Texas-Austin released a study Friday claiming that if construction sites in the Austin area remain open, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the general population by mid-August could triple from an estimated 10,000 to 30,000, and the hospitalization of construction workers could increase eight-fold. That could be the case, said UT's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, if nothing is done to mitigate health risks on construction sites. Local building industry executives dispute the assumptions in the UT report.
City and county officials say they will work to mitigate health risks, but they can't do it all. The industry must pitch in.
Dianne Bangle, CEO of RECA, said Tate "raises really important issues" in her call to the industry to fight for a path to citizenship for construction workers. "RECA has always been the one to continue these discussions, be at the table and participate, and help guide any solution."
However, Bangle said, "what is absolutely in front of us now is the protection of the health and safety of the workers."
Dianne Bangle is CEO of RECA. (Diane Bangle)Diane Bangle
Lately, the crypto market is looking shaky.
The price of bitcoin fell by more than half from its high, the digital currency luna crashed to $0 and a type of so-called stablecoin TerraUSD has been described as dead.
Reporting from the LA Times notes that experts seeing a correlation between traditional markets and the cryptocurrency market is high right now, with plunges in one being followed by a plunge in the other. On Wednesday, stocks had their worst day in more than two years with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 1,164 points.
Crypto’s volatility has long been questioned, especially after SXSW this year was filled with Web3 enthusiasts and displays.
With 8% of Texans owning Bitcoin and many others involved in the local crypto and Web3 scene, what are they feeling amid the crash?
In a written comment to Austonia, ATX DAO said a positive with the downturn is that “most of the speculative moneygrab type projects get washed out of the market, and the quality projects that deliver real value remain and gather more attention.”
The group went on to say it could work to their advantage as they carry out their latest project: a mural at Native Hostel that will have an NFT version. They’ll use sales toward donations to HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a local nonprofit that supports artists and creatives.
Meanwhile, Yagub Rahimov, a founder of an Austin-based Web3 company explains that they aren’t really impacted by the crash.
Since the company known as Tested Web functions as a Web3 online reputation marketplace, it is utilizing blockchain technology without tokenizing.
“We are a share to earn marketplace. That means that any activity that users have on tested web.com, we will be rewarding,” Rahimov said. “Those rewards are coming in the form of rewards points. And every quarter they can opt in to receive either a gift card or a check. We are not issuing any cryptocurrency. That's one of the important elements that I believe we got it right that way.”
With recent developments at Tested Web, Rahimov says he “couldn’t be happier.” After struggling to find tech talent in early spring, he’s had a hiring spree in the last 10 days and received a $1 million grant and partnership with Silent Notary, a blockchain-powered validation provider.
But his recent business success aside, Rahimov is noticing what’s happening in the markets and predicts that the correlation between the crypto market and traditional one will be broken.
“The way Bitcoin was introduced back in 2009, it was as a reply or response to the 2008 market crash,” Rahimov said. “And it really feels like we are in 2007, 2008, actually, early, early days of the market crash. And if it becomes that way, very likely that the winner is going to be those of decentralized parties.”
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Barton Springs Pool is on a condensed schedule while the city tries to fill out its lifeguard roster.
The popular pool is currently closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while it navigates a lifeguard shortage. The city is offering bonuses to new applicants who can start by early June.
Austin Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Jodi Jay said there are 207 lifeguards ready to work and 100 incoming but the department needs 750 to be fully staffed.
Zoom out: The pandemic has had a lasting impact on hiring—in 2019, the city was able to hire 850 lifeguards. The Aquatic Department has been unable to match those numbers since it reopened training classes in spring of 2021.
Why it matters: The city needs at least 400 lifeguards, plus 30 with open water certification, to open pools on a modified schedule by June 4. Without hitting that mark, some facilities could limit hours or close.
The job pays between $16-19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses on the table:
- $500 bonus if you get certified and start working by June 6.
- $500 bonus if you work through August 14.
- $250 bonus if you get advanced certification.