Board of Directors 2015

Jose “Chito” Vela III, Board President, is a local attorney with his own law practice. Prior to beginning his own practice, Chito worked for the Texas Attorney General’s Office and in the Texas Legislature as general counsel to a state representative. He is originally from Laredo, Texas and has strong ties to the Texas/Mexico border. His views on immigration and labor were shaped by growing up miles from the border and traveling extensively in Mexico, where his family is from. Chito has two young children and enjoys being active in politics and community affairs. He is also a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Craig Adair, Vice President, joined WDP’s board of directors in 2013. Currently, he develops renewable energy projects – primarily using wind power – with Pioneer Green Energy. From 2008 to 2012, Craig was Director of the Office of State Representative Lon Burnam, a Democratic leader in policies related to economic equality, environment, and civil rights. During that same time, Craig was a member of the board of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition. In 2006, Craig received his Masters in Public Policy and Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Craig was born and raised in Houston, Texas but has lived in Austin since 1995.

Kevin Jewell, Treasurer, volunteered with Casa Marianella, the Austin emergency housing shelter for recently-arrived immigrants where Workers Defense Project (WDP) was born, for over a decade before joining the WDP board.  During that time he taught English as a Second Language and served two terms on the Casa Marianella board of directors.  Kevin works by day as a freelance consultant, applying economic and quantitative analysis to questions in business, policy, and litigation.  He previously worked for the policy research arm of Consumers Union (the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports).  Much of Kevin’s work has focused on the well-being of low-income consumers, including examinations of the market for manufactured housing, the privatization of the British energy market, and the structure of retail bank overdraft fees.  Kevin joined the WDP board because he believes the work of WDP makes a positive difference for everyone.

Cyndi Jiménez, Secretary, has been a part of WDP since she was in high school. When her dad came to the organization looking for help after he wasn’t paid for his work, Cyndi and her entire family fell in love with WDP. She served as volunteer worker rights trainer while still in high school, and after graduation she and her mother became owners of Dahlia Green Cleaning, Austin’s first worker-owned housecleaning cooperative, and Cyndi also began her college career. Dahlia’s youngest member, Cyndi is twenty years old and has lived in Austin, Texas since she turned nine. She is originally from Veracruz, Mexico, and is the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. Cyndi is involved with WDP because she has seen firsthand the organization’s ability to bring workers together to provide better opportunities for the community, families, and individuals.

Jesus Alcauter first got involved with Workers Defense Project in 2012. He has emerged as an important leader among WDP members. Jesus leads the worker meeting each Tuesday night and has testified before City Council on numerous occasions to protect the rights of low-wage workers.

Val Benavidez was born in Austin, Texas and grew up nearby in Kerrville. She is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and Mexican-American mother. Her grandparents were farmworkers, railroad builders, and political activists. She is the Outreach and Field Director for the Texas Freedom Network where she oversees grassroots organizing, lobbying and civic engagement work. Val has worked for numerous non-profit advocacy organizations including the Texas Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, League of Young Voters as well as serving as Executive Director of ProTex: Network for a Progressive Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. In her free time Val can be found eating tacos and playing at parks all over Austin with her husband, two dogs, and a rambunctious toddler.

Daniel Berner is an attorney who has lived in Austin on and off for seven years. Daniel holds a Bachelor in Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. Following law school, Daniel worked as a litigator in New York City and Austin. He has long been interested in issues of immigration and civil rights and has maintained an active pro bono immigration practice throughout his career. This work was recognized by New York’s Sanctuary for Families organization, which twice awarded Daniel its Above & Beyond Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Advocacy. Daniel joined WDP’s Board of Directors because he believes the fair treatment of low-wage workers, documented and undocumented, is a fundamental civil rights issue.

Armando Guerrero is originally from Mexico where he worked in business administration. At age 22 Armando came to work in the U.S. with the hopes of finding more secure economic opportunities. In the U.S. Armando has worked the last sixteen years in construction in six different states. Through Armando’s work experience he saw first hand the effect of exploitive working conditions in Texas and decided to become involved in Workers Defense Project to end the unjust treatment of construction workers. Armando is a worker member of WDP and played a fundamental role in helping the organization win the passage of its rest breaks ordinance that protects nearly 50,000 construction workers in Austin that previously did not have this right. Armando is also the proud father of two children.

Fernando López was born in the city of Alamo in Veracruz, Mexico. He came to the United States in 1995 and lived and worked as a laborer in McAllen, Texas for two years. In 1997, he moved to Austin, where he has been working as a painter since his arrival. Fernando’s favorite sport is soccer, and he has been a volunteer coach for a youth team for the last six years in Austin. He has been an active member of WDP for three years, and is honored to have been selected to be a member of WDP’s Board of Directors. Fernando and his wife have two amazing teenage children, Flor and Humberto.