Setting the Record Straight on Construction Project

RECEIVED Tue., May 12, 2009

Dear Editor,
    I am writing to set the record straight about Michael King’s portrayal in your April 24 issue of the protest organized by the Workers Defense Project at the Cobra Studios under construction in East Austin ["Two Snapshots, One Problem," News, April 24]. The Workers Defense Project organized the protest because some workers who had been employed by ACL Masonry, a masonry subcontractor, were not paid by ACL Masonry for their work. What Mr. King left out of his story were the following facts: The Workers Defense Project was given documentation months ago showing that Cobalt Companies paid all ACL Masonry invoices in a timely manner for materials and labor (the workers in question). As a result, notarized lien releases were produced for those payments. ACL Masonry subsequently wrote hot checks to its employees and now has filed bankruptcy. This is all well documented and part of the court record noted by the Western District Court of Texas. Even so, the Workers Defense Project organized a protest to surprise members of the Cobra Team who had been called to the site to meet a prospective “buyer” and, in front of television cameras and a chanting crowd holding signs alleging theft and slave labor, tried to intimidate the Cobra Team into paying for this labor again.
    The Workers Defense Project is after the wrong guys and using the wrong tactics. ACL Masonry stole its laborers' payment, and neither Cobalt Companies nor Cobra Studios is to blame. Given the facts left out by Mr. King, the story seems intentionally misleading in order to support some stereotypical idea that "the Man" is taking advantage of the poor Hispanic worker.
    Cobra Studios is a small, sustainable, affordable, SMART housing live-work project in East Austin. We have provided jobs for the community and are providing affordable housing to people who make a fraction of median family income. Cobra Studios will be one of the few five-star green-building multifamily projects.
    Mr. King’s story is irresponsible. Why would the Chronicle so readily side against a small locally owned business that is working hard to contribute to Austin in a positive way by providing jobs and affordable housing? I am sympathetic to the Workers Defense Project’s mission to protect vulnerable workers, but its bullying and dishonest tactics in this case undermine the organization’s credibility and do not serve the interests of its clients.
Richard J. deVarga
President
The Cobra Team LP
   [Michael King responds: As the story reported, "Matt McCormack of Cobalt, and a partner in Cobra Team LP, said subcontractor ACL Masonry was paid for the job but failed to pay its employees (and has since filed for bankruptcy, he said). 'ACL stole their labor and stole our money,' McCormack said, adding, 'We're all in the same boat here.'"]
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