AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), Texas AFL-CIO chapter and Texas Communication Workers of America (CWA), as well as retirees and supporters, held a Lobbying Day at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday.
The TSEU is asking lawmakers for:
- a $10,000 per year raise for all state employees and university workers;
- a pension increase for retired state employees; and,
- more funding and staff for state services and universities.
The day began with a march; union members and supporters gathered at Woolridge Square before walking to the capitol.
At the capitol’s south steps, TSEU leadership and representatives from other allied unions spoke at a rally.
TSEU President Judy Lugo said high worker turnover and an increased cost of living have made state workers’ already hard jobs “near being impossible.”
“We are here today, along with many allies, to bring the simple message to our elected leaders: Pay raise now!” Lugo said. “State leaders are sitting on billions and billions of dollars. The people that make Texas work have gone for over 20 years without a pension increase and over 10 years without a real pay increase.”
“Legislators in this building, this month, already know pension increases are critical for retirees — they have given themselves three different increases,” Lugo said.
Texas House Rep. John Bucy, D-Cedar Park, also spoke at the rally.
“I’m proud to be a union member. I’m proud to stand alongside each and every one of you,” Bucy said. “Time after time after time, y’all have put in more work than you need to because you want to serve this state. But this building has failed you.”
Bucy said he wants to see House Bills 202 (pay raise for state employees) and 3761 (cost-of-living adjustment for benefits from the Employees Retirement System of Texas) passed.
“The disrespect cannot go on any longer. If we don’t get it done and we’re gonna get it done at the ballot box, because your voice will not be silenced,” Bucy said. “Let’s get the pay raise and let’s get the cost of living adjustment. Let’s get to work.”
From 1980s to 2020s, struggle continues
TSEU co-founder Jim Pearson, now a rank-and-file member, spoke with KXAN after the rally.
“There has been a really, really long impasse in providing raises for state workers,” Pearson said, “We have fallen behind in terms of cost of living and every other metric that you can look at. We basically are competing with the service industry for workers.”
Compared to when the TSEU was founded, Pearson said that the Texas Legislature of the 1980s was more concerned about state agencies and workers. Now he feels that some legislators do not understand what state workers do.
“I think that in the 80s, we had a much more balanced legislature,” Pearson said, “Regardless of their particular political party, there was a shared concern about state services that seems to have gone by the wayside over a period of years.”
Pearson is the director of training and competency development at the Austin State Hospital. From his position at the hospital, worker retention has created problems in providing services.
“We have such a waiting list for people to get services,” Pearson said. “We, because of the wage gap, can’t hire enough people to take care of them. So this isn’t just a matter of people wanting more money, it’s a matter of people being able to provide the services that we’re mandated to take care of.”
Retirees say pensions stuck in 2000s
Barbara Fetonte, a member of the retiree section of TSEU, was at the rally. For retirees like Fetonte, their pensions are trapped in time, stuck at the same amount as when they retired. Rising inflation, property re-evaluations and cost of living has choked out the pensions.
“We’re way behind where we should be,” Fetonte said. “Social Security gives you cost of living increases, but there’s no way you can even maintain your same standard of living and hope without an increase in over 20 years.”
Fetonte worked near the Capitol for 25 years at the Texas Workforce Commission.
“I know that when you’re fighting for something, you’re much stronger when you fight as a group than when you fight by yourself,” Fetonte said. “We’ve been asking for this for at least 10 years. And it’s always next year, next session. This is the session, we have the money.”