Council approves IAH/United deal

The deal is done.

The deal calls for United to put in $686 million and the Houston Airport System $288 million. Although the airport system is a city government function, it runs as a separate business and will not use tax money to finance the deal. The system plans to pay its share of costs with a $3-per-passenger fee it started collecting nearly two years ago.

The City Council approved the deal unanimously. The Service Employees International Union, which represents neither city workers nor United employees, criticized the council for approving the contract less than two weeks after the end of negotiations. In a statement released after the vote, SEIU said the agreement “does not guarantee good jobs with benefits.”

Mayor Annise Parker disagreed.

“Capital projects like that are huge engines for job creation,” she said. “In the long term, the work that’s going to be done out there will benefit the entire community in terms of providing good jobs at good wages.”

The full statement from SEIU is beneath the fold. You can see Mayor Parker’s full response to the question about SEIU’s objections in the weekly press conference video; the airport/SEIU question comes up just before the 15 minute mark. The Mayor stated that SEIU has gotten some facts wrong, but did not specify what exactly she was disputing.

It remains the case that it is not easy to find information about this deal. There is some stuff in Council’s agenda, on pages 91-94, but that’s not the sort of thing a person would find on a casual search of the city’s webpage. My expectation for what there should be is something along the line of a section on the front page of the webpage saying “Learn more about Terminal B redevelopment” or what have you, with an overview of the deal and a FAQ and contact info for more details. I still don’t know why that hasn’t happened.

As it happens, I have received a copy of the relevant docs from SEIU, which you can see here and here, so one hopes that can answer all our questions. Council did support this unanimously, which is a pretty rare event these days, so they saw no obvious red flags. Whatever the case, the deal is done and I hope it is the good deal and job creator the city says it will be. Certainly spending millions on capital projects is a good way to boost the economy, so on that front I’m hopeful. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: I have been informed by the Mayor’s office that a front page link on will be added on Monday about the deal. I would have preferred that to have happened before the Council vote, but I appreciate that it will be up now.

Houston City Council Rushed through United’s Questionable Deal at IAH

Community voices, questions about quality jobs and millions in revenue ignored in favor of a giveaway to Chicago-based United Airlines

On Wednesday, August 10, Houston City Council voted unanimously to approve a decades-long gate lease agreement between United Airlines and the Houston Airport System. Despite Houstonians’ calls for a thorough and transparent process, the Council’s vote comes only nine days after the agreement was made available to the public.

The agreement doesn’t guarantee that citizens are getting a good deal. Houston’s working families and taxpayers could lose good jobs and millions in concessions and gate revenue for up to 40 years. The fact that United recently cut 1,500 jobs from Houston and moved them to Chicago raises concerns about the company’s commitment to good jobs in our community.

The City Council and Mayor Parker should address the concerns Houstonians still have about a deal that lacks job guarantees, gives away millions in revenue and could leave taxpayers footing the bill for the majority of the expansion of Terminal B. Mayor Parker has stressed the need to ‘Hire Houston First’ to ensure that projects funded with public dollars invest in our communities. Yet this $1 billion deal — one of the biggest public works projects in several generations — does not require United to contract with Houston-based businesses and does not guarantee good jobs with benefits.

Houstonians wanted transparency and a good deal — they got neither today. SEIU will continue to be a watchdog on this issue because taxpayers and workers deserve both a world class airport and an economy that works for everyone.

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