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HOPE Helps Shore up Pensions in Houston

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Ronaldo Diaz, a HOPE member, discusses Proposition A with a voter during a phone bank. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray
Ronaldo Diaz, a HOPE member, discusses Proposition A with a voter during a phone bank. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray

Houston, we no longer have a pension problem.

Thanks in part to the hard work of Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE) members, pension benefits for municipal employees are secure. That’s because the community overwhelmingly – by a margin of 77 percent – voted for Proposition A, Houston’s pension obligation bond.

The Nov. 7 vote means the city can “follow through on its plan to infuse $750 million into the police pension and $250 million into the municipal workers' pension,” says the Houston Chronicle, helping resolve a lingering 16-year fiscal crisis.

Since October 2016, Mayor Sylvester Turner, HOPE AFSCME Local 123 and others had been negotiating a pension-reform plan to protect pension benefits for hardworking city employees and protect Houston’s financial future.

HOPE President Melvin Hughes talks to a packed house of labor activists before a block walk for Proposition A. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray
HOPE President Melvin Hughes talks to a packed house of labor activists before a block walk for Proposition A. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray

“We were proud to partner with the mayor in negotiating this plan,” said HOPE President Melvin Hughes. “He told us from the very beginning we were going to protect our pension benefits. He never brought up other ideas like raising taxes or moving to 401(K)s.”

In the spring of 2017, HOPE members lobbied the Texas Legislature to pass the pension-reform plan. The final step was putting the $1 billion pension bond before the voters of Houston to approve. HOPE members understood this was going to be a difficult fight, but with the added devastation Hurricane Harvey inflicted on the city, it seemed an almost insurmountable goal. That’s when members got to work.

“We know that Proposition A makes sense,” said Dwight Bradley, HOPE AFSCME Local 123 executive board member. “It wasn’t going to raise taxes; it was going to create almost $2 billion in savings for the city and make sure that municipal employees are still able to retire with dignity. That was what we had to share with our neighbors and co-workers.” 

Gwen Alexander talks with retired teacher Larry Woods about Proposition A. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray
Gwen Alexander talks with retired teacher Larry Woods about Proposition A. Photo Credit: Namita Waghray

HOPE members met with their co-workers to talk with them about Proposition A and its importance. They did phone banking, partnered with other unions to block-walk the city of Houston, and asked their co-workers to sign commit-to-vote cards, making sure everyone had a plan to vote on Nov. 7 for Proposition A.

“It was overwhelming to see (by) how wide of a margin Houston residents supported Proposition A,” Bradley said. “HOPE members were ready to stand together and protect our pension benefits and the financial future of our city.”