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Texas – ‘HOPE’ Wins Contract, Reverses Unjust Policies

Restore The Jobs!
Restore The Jobs! | Melvin Hughes, president of the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE/AFSCME Local 123), speaks out at a press conference against the city’s decision to issue layoff notices to community service employees and other workers, and for instituting other changes without consulting with the union first. (Photo by Isaac Epstein)

Despite months of budget cuts and layoffs, the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE/AFSCME Local 123) this summer won a second four-year agreement — one that gives municipal employees new ways to improve their jobs, builds better communication with management and even includes a raise.

The union, which represents about 12,000 municipal employees also mounted a successful campaign in August to reverse the city’s decisions affecting community inspectors and other employees who work with the police department. They identify vacant buildings where drugs are made and sold, pinpoint illegal business operations, and identify building conditions that could put firefighters in imminent danger.

According to HOPE Exec. Dir. Annika Dowling, the new agreement, which members approved overwhelmingly, “sets the stage for an improved voice on the job, where city employees will be able to advocate for changes that save money and improve public services.” In addition to improving labor-management communication, the contract increases workplace representation through a new steward structure, and increases wages by 5 percent over the next four years.

Another HOPE victory came in response to the city’s decision to stop reimbursing Neighborhood Protective Services inspectors for the cost (at least $500) of getting a code-enforcement license. The inspectors also were ordered to get certified — a two-or three-month process — within 45 days or lose their jobs. Finally, 17 workers were laid off, including seven inspectors who were in the process of acquiring licenses, and 24 other workers were given the option of voluntary demotions.

HOPE members blasted those actions at a press conference, spoke out at a city council meeting and mounted a successful call-in campaign to get city council members to reverse the decisions. The council agreed to change the forced voluntary demotions into reclassifications, with no cut in pay. In addition, the code-enforcement license application deadline was extended to 90 days, and application costs will now be reimbursed.

HOPE, the only collective bargaining agent in Texas for non-uniformed public employees, is still fighting to restore the jobs of the 17 neighborhood-protection workers.

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