The QueQue: Ramen noodles, Bexar County, and wage theft, LGBT discrimination and SA city codes, Bernal driving out the moneychangers
Published: June 27, 2012
Ramen noodles, Bexar County, and wage theft
"This is an unusual project," said David Marquez, Director of Bexar County Economic Development when asked about his efforts to entice Maruchan, Inc., to San Antonio. The Japan-based manufacturer of Ramen noodles and other high-sodium foods is considering building a factory in southwest Bexar County. The facility would bring tax revenues and jobs to the area. But as San Antonio considers its place in the low-wage economy, the question is: what kind of jobs?
San Antonio got a peek at those kind of jobs early June when the U.S. Department of Labor concluded an investigation into prominent San Antonio car wash, the Wash Tub. According to investigators, the company had made illegal deductions from employees' paychecks, had failed to pay overtime, and had not appropriately recorded the hours worked by employees. Following the investigation, the Wash Tub paid a total of $246,438 in back wages to 308 employees — an average pay-out of about $800 for each worker. "The lower the wage, the more vulnerable workers are," said Juan Coria, director of the San Antonio District Office for the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
Maruchan, Inc. plans to employ about 60 people at the plant and rely on contractors to staff another 600 positions. Most of those contract jobs would pay little more than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The county is considering a package of $5.8 million in tax incentives for Maruchan, Inc. to build its plant on Fischer Road. The low wages being offered by the company's contractors have raised questions as to whether the county government should incentivize such a project. The county's own guidelines require a company receiving a tax abatement to pay at least a living wage, currently pegged at $10.75 per hour. To get around County guidelines, the company is not being offered an abatement but a grant, which does not have a living-wage stipulation. "We are still concerned about the minimum-wage side," said Marquez.
"We're starting to address some of those issues. The contractor should be paying a living wage."
While any deal would require the final approval of the county commissioners, a unanimous 'yes' is expected. While Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo described the deal with Maruchan as a "dilemma" to the San Antonio Express-News, he added "a job is a job. We need as many of them as we can get."
When the think tank Progressive States Network graded all 50 states on worker protections recently, Texas got an F-minus. "There are zero record-keeping requirements in place [in Texas]," said report co-author Cristina Francisco-McGuire. "The state also has zero anti-retaliation provisions in place." Given that extra vulnerability, county and city leaders should think extra hard on what sort of jobs they want to encourage.