AUSTIN, Texas – About 100 AFSCME members went to the Texas Legislature this week to press for fair pay for veteran corrections officers, push for retirees to have the chance to serve on the state retirement board and urge lawmakers to reject proposals aimed at hurting union members.
AFSCME Texas Corrections held a legislative summit on Wednesday where members learned about legislation that would affect Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officers and other employees. Then they went to the statehouse to urge the legislature to institute a new pay classification for Correctional Officer VI, one that would create a career ladder for those with 10 years of service and provide a modest pay increase.
Officers also raised concerns about increased dependent health care costs and supported higher appropriations requests for TDCJ facilities and to keep LECOS – the state’s retirement and pension plan – fully funded.
Lanai Ramirez made the seven-hour trip from Lubbock to Austin to share her passion for her work as a TDCJ officer.
“This is my first time doing something like this and I was really nervous when we headed over to the statehouse,” Ramirez said. “When we walked in, I was shaking like a leaf. But then I heard a fellow corrections officer talk about having worked for TDCJ over 22 years. As a new employee, I look to veteran officers to help me do my job and stay safe, that is why the CO VI position is so important. I want a career ladder for myself, but we also need it so officers who have been here for such a long time feel respected, and continue working for TDCJ.”
Robert Arnold, a corrections officer in Lubbock and a father of four, asked his representatives to lower the cost of dependent-care health insurance. He spoke about the impact on his kids when he was injured on the job and had to have steel nails put into his right shoulder as part of his recovery process.
“I was out for almost six months and though 70 percent of my medical bills were covered, the balance and my family’s healthcare was astronomical,” Arnold said. “I know they can find solutions to the rising cost of dependent health care, but it shouldn’t just be about shifting the cost from TDCJ to the officers.”
At the end of the long day, AFSCME members were tired but excited about their next steps.
“We worked really hard educating our elected officials. But it can’t end here,” said Local 2974 (Lubbock) President Lance Mondragon. “We have to continue talking to supportive legislators. We are coming up with plans to make regular legislative visits, phone calls, and writing letters to continue our momentum.”
Members of AFSCME Texas Retiree Chapter 12 made the rounds of the Texas Legislature on Thursday.
They urged state lawmakers to pass a Chapter 12-backed bill that would allow retirees to run for a seat on the six-member Texas retirement systems board. Only working employees are allowed to run for the board. The proposed legislation would change that, explained Maura Powers, Chapter 12’s president.
“So what this does is it opens up one seat. All we have is the opportunity to run. It’s not a guaranteed win. We hope this passes in this session,” Powers said in a telephone interview from Austin.
A similar bill failed to advance beyond the committee stage two years ago. This time around, the proposal has bipartisan support in the Texas House and also has attracted a Senate sponsor, improving its chances of passage.
Members of both AFSCME Corrections and Retirees urged lawmakers to reject legislation filed in the Texas House and Senate that would take away the ability to pay union dues through paycheck deduction.
Contributing: Raju Chebium