(Kerry Tate)

Kerry Tate (left) and Dawn Moore are founding partners at Moore-Tate Projects+Design. (Kerry Tate)

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."


Diane Bangle Dianne Bangle is CEO of RECA. (Diane Bangle)Diane Bangle

(Charlie Harper III)

The Nov. 3 election promises high turnout.

The upcoming Nov. 3 election is set to be a historic one—in Austin and around the country.

The Travis County Clerk's office expects as many as 100,000 voters will apply for a mail-in ballot by the Oct. 23 deadline, and it has already received nearly double the number of applications it did for the 2016 general election.

"It is most definitely COVID," County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told Austonia earlier this month. "People are afraid to come inside."

Ahead of Election Day, we've rounded up key dates to remember, a guide to voting by mail and some background on the major races at the local, state and federal levels.

Keep Reading Show less
(Facebook)

Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson announced in April that he was selling the restaurant, beer joint and music venue, closing the curtain on one of Austin's most iconic businesses.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many esteemed local businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently. Austin is no exception, and over the last six months, some of the city's most beloved local establishments have had to say goodbye. This non-comprehensive list includes some of Austin's most iconic businesses that have closed for good due to COVID-19. May they live in the hearts and minds of Austinites forever.

Keep Reading Show less
(Williamson County)

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was indicted and arrested on a felony charge for destroying video evidence related to the Javier Ambler case.

This story has been updated to include information from two press conferences on Monday afternoon.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been indicted and arrested on a felony charge for destroying video evidence related to the death of Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in custody last year, according to local reports.

Keep Reading Show less
(Joe Lanane)

Kevin Russell of Austin band Shinyribs speaks Monday morning outside of Austin City Hall in a rally to support Austin music industry workers. City Council will consider COVID-19 relief measures this week.

Editor's Note 1:45 p.m.: This story has been updated from the previously published preview to the rally to tell what happened at the rally.

Austin music industry members and supporters rallied Monday morning in front of City Hall to remind elected officials of their essential role in the "Live Music Capital of the World."

Keep Reading Show less
(Matt Smith/Shutterstock)

Austinite and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles returns the field for another win with the Chicago Bears.

Quarterback Nick Foles, an Austin native who attended Westlake High School, is making waves again in a relief role for an NFL team.

Keep Reading Show less

A new report by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin projects how transmission among students could amplify spread in the Austin metro.

The reopening of the University of Texas at Austin could amplify community transmission of COVID-19 in the Austin area, according to a new report published by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

Keep Reading Show less
(Emma Freer)

This November, Austin voters will decide whether to approve Proposition A, which would increase the city's property tax rate to fund and maintain Project Connect.

Austin voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to back Proposition A, which would increase the city's property tax rate to fund and maintain a $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of the city's transit system.

If approved, Project Connect will expand Austin's rapid bus system and add two new light rail lines, which will be served by a multi-block underground downtown tunnel.

Here is a closer look at the light rail component of the plan:

Keep Reading Show less