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Labor Group Seeks to Depose White Lodging

Downtown Marriott developer accused of breaking incentive agreement

By Mike Kanin, Fri., May 10, 2013

Rendering of the proposed Downtown Marriott
Rendering of the proposed Downtown Marriott

The ongoing scrum between the Workers Defense Project and White Lodging – the firm behind the soon-to-be new Downtown JW Marriott hotel – took another turn this week when WDP's attorney filed a request to depose the White Lodging official "most knowledgeable about its tax-incentive agreement with the city." Workers Defense contends that White Lodging violated the incentive agreement (really, a series of tax and fee breaks) it signed up for in conjunction with the construction of the future hotel, now just a fast-filling big hole at the intersection of Second and Congress.

WDP has pushed the issue since the beginning of the year, and a February city audit revealed that White Lodging had underpaid 31 workers. The city gave White Lodging until March 1 to make all that right. WDP business liaison Gregorio Casar says that never happened. Instead, as Amy Smith reported in these pages back on March 8, White Lodging lobbyist Richard Suttle penned a brusque letter to Council members urging them to, among other things, halt the wage audits.

Casar told the Chronicle on Tuesday that his organization felt it had to go the legal route. "There's something going on," he said. "It's something we felt we had to do." They remain concerned that White Lodging is shorting both area residents – through those tax and fee breaks – and its construction labor.

When we last heard from White Lodging (back in March), the firm had soured on the deal. The Indiana-based outfit contended that city management had signed off on the notion of calculating the prevailing wage requirements they'd agreed to via an average, and that the alternative – a straight, position-by-position calculation – would cost more than the value of the incentives in the deal.

The firm did not return multiple calls asking for comment about the latest WDP action by press time.

Meanwhile, the WDP approach – as penned by the Texas Civil Rights Project's Brian McGiv­erin – is an interesting one. Instead of filing suit, McGiverin asks that a Travis County district judge grant WDP the right to depose an unspecified White Lodging employee. The tactic doesn't quite commit WDP to a lawsuit, and, as such, reads like a rather prudent try at a purely informational inquiry; despite Casar's certainty that something is wrong, he and his team haven't locked themselves into full-scale litigation with a deep-pocketed opponent. Yet.

McGiverin said the request for deposition is a "tool that is pretty widely available." He added, "You can believe that someone has done something wrong, but until you ... get proof, you are not 100 percent certain."

He continued, "It's necessary to find out more about the truth mainly because White Lodging has done so much to obscure and conceal [it]."

*The original headline in print and previously online was incorrect ("Labor Group Seeks Ouster at White Lodging"). The group is seeking to query the hotel developers in a deposition.
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