AUSTIN -- It was business as usual at the site of the J. W. Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Congress Avenue in Downtown. Construction workers laboring in triple digit heat on the 1,000-room hotel.
But there is an air of uncertainty. Just after midnight Friday morning, with its chambers full of protesters, the Austin City Council put an end to an ongoing labor dispute between the city and the company building the hotel, White Lodging.
"In the end, there was no action to be taken, so we adjourned," said Council Member Laura Morrison.
"The decision was to leave the original agreement in place, which is, the Marriott will get their fee waivers if they comply with the prevailing wage requirement," explained Council Member Kathie Tovo.
In June 2011 the council agreed to waive $3.8 million in fees if White Lodging paid workers a certain wage. The developer learned that would cost more than the waivers were worth and say city staff came up with a new deal that included lower wages.
But city staff say they never agreed to lower wages. An audit conducted earlier this year found White Lodging owes about one dozen workers a total of $5,000 in back wages.
City staff say they gave White Lodging representatives numerous opportunities to pay the wages, but they did not. In June the city revoked the waiver agreement.
The City Council's decision to not take any action upholds that decision.
"My perspective, it was really important that we stick by the original agreement just for Austinites to have faith in the integrity of our government," said Morrison.
The Workers Defense Project, which participated in protests against White Lodging, supports the council's decision.
"Really what this whole issue blew up about was a small amount but meant a lot for those workers. So we're glad to see the city uphold its end of the bargain," said Christina Tzintzun, Executive Director of Workers Defense Project.
So what will happen now?
The $300 million hotel and convention center has been under construction since August 2012 and staff have already booked reservations for 178,000 nights after it opens in March 2015. So while it is unlikely that construction will stop, the repercussions of the council's decision could effect the construction workers building the hotel.
White Lodging representatives released this statement: "We are disappointed and will be looking at all our options."
The Director of the Southwest Laborers Union said he fears White Lodging will pay the city fees and lower worker's wages.
"If you're a laborer, if you're in the ditches, hand-digging trenches, laying concrete, building scaffolding, for those people, prevailing wages is $7.57 an hour," explained Jeremy Hendricks.
Those laborers should be making $12 an hour, per the agreement with the city.
White Lodging representatives have not said if they will lower wages. According to the presentation they gave the city council, the company's standard is to pay laborers $10 an hour, which is above the $7.57 wage required by law.
Both Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Mike Martinez acknowledged this possibility and said no one would win from the situation.
White lodging has used about $688,000 of the $3.8 million fee waivers to date.