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Heartfelt testimonies aid in unanimous City Council decision to raise city workers’ wages to possibly $22 an hour

Rodney Sutton, who works for Austin Resource Recovery, advocated for more pay at Thursday's City Council meeting. (Austin City Council)

After dozens of Austin's city employees filed into City Hall with tearful testimonies and pleas for change, Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution to raise its workers' minimum wage on Thursday.

The resolution, created by District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, directs the city manager to include a minimum wage of $22 an hour for contract, part-time, temporary and sworn employees in the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in October. The raise to $22 an hour isn't guaranteed, however, as the city manager can determine it is not feasible when preparing the budget and instead provide a raise at the "most significant amount possible."

A range of city employees—from lifeguards to EMS workers, Austin-Bergstrom Airport staff to 911 dispatchers—spoke in favor of the proposal at the meeting. The City of Austin's minimum wage for its staff has been set at $15 an hour since 2018.

Like many other speakers, Cinthya San Miguel, a cashier at the Tacodeli in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said that she's had to move outside of the city she serves in order to make ends meet. The proposal will help her pay for increases in gas prices, groceries and her new commute, which involves driving 40 minutes to take her son, who has special needs, to school.

"We appreciate Council Member Fuentes and the Austin City Council for standing up for Austin workers," San Miguel told Austonia. "This raise will make a huge difference for me, my son and my newborn baby."

(Laura Figi/Austonia)

The proposal was created to alleviate Austin's understaffing issues, which have left 17% of its budgeted positions currently open. Half of Austin's pools are closed due to a lifeguard shortage, and San Miguel said that even amid record travel, the airport has been forced to close some of its services due to overextended staff.

With fewer workers, many essential city services are in crisis. Amy Anderson, a 911 call taker, said the service is sometimes holding 60 calls at a given moment, while Austin-Travis County EMS paramedic Ariel Jewell said she takes overtime shifts both voluntarily and involuntarily as the service works to remain functional. Rodney Sutton, a single dad who works for the city's trash-collecting services, said he works overtime in many trucks without A/C as he works to make ends meet.

“I have to work extra hours, extra days, which causes me to have to pay more in daycare, so I’m losing on both ends,” Sutton said. “I love my job. Austin gave me a chance to make it, and I’m making it, but when prices and stuff started to elevate, our paychecks stayed the same. We’re losing as essential workers.”

San Miguel, Jewell, and others who spoke said the root of the issue was not a labor shortage, but a wage shortage.

"We feel like we sell our soul to the city and the department for a salary that isn't even livable," Jewell said. "We love helping people with medicine, but we need to have wages that truly compensate us for what we do as well as the very high cost of living."

(Sonia Garcia/Austonia)

City Manager Spencer Cronk said Monday that the proposal could cost the city between $18.2 million and $22.8 million, and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said some programs could be cut as a result of the resolution.

But the speakers' testimonies were well-received by city officials, including Mayor Steve Adler, before the proposal was unanimously approved.

"We know that we can do better, and we need to do better," Adler said. "I just wanted to acknowledge the authenticity and the transparency that these neighbors have granted us today, to say that we hear you, we trust you, and that we will do our part to carry this torch for those who work tirelessly and compassionately to serve this community."

The vote was celebrated by city workers and over a dozen workers' rights groups, including airport workers' union UNITE HERE Local 23, Lifeguards United, and the Workers Defense Project. The city's living wage work group, AFSCME Local 1624, first recommended the changes to the city.


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