January 04, 2008
Looking Forward to 2008: Doug Wieskopf

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called "Looking Forward to 2008". This entry was written by Doug Wieskopf.)

My name is Doug Wieskopf and I work as a librarian for the City of Houston. I also help represent thousands of city workers in contract negotiations with city management as part of the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE) bargaining team. My wish for 2008 is a simple one - a contract with the City of Houston that ensures a livable wage for every city worker and quality services for every Houston resident.

As many of you know, we've been locked in contract negotiations since last April. Even though we're now huddling through the cold and damp of winter, some sunshine is beginning to shine down on our fight. Our pressure on the city has resulted in some city departments - like libraries and the police - raising the salaries of their lowest paid workers. And last month the city agreed with us that $10 an hour is the absolute minimum any city worker should make. These are hopeful signs, but this is not to say that spring has sprung, that everything is coming up roses and we have no fighting left to do.

Right now, roughly a thousand of my co-workers still make less than $9.83 an hour - the federal poverty rate for a family of four. And the city's latest contract offer wouldn't set a $10 an hour floor until 2010. Overall, Houston city workers make 21 percent less than municipal workers in other big Texas and U.S. cities - and we have the second worst pay among eight Texas governments surveyed by the city. Despite these dismal numbers (all of which come from city sources, by the way), Houston officials are offering an annual across-the-board raise of just 2 percent for the next four years - not even enough to keep pace with inflation.

The city administration likes to say that these tiny across-the-board raises will be supplemented with pay-for-performance raises. But the city's performance pay system is broken. In the last four years, only 36 percent of city workers on average have received performance pay raises in a system vulnerable to favoritism. If we're going to lift our workforce up to the standards of other cities, we need full and fair across-the-board raises.

As Jeff Caynon, the president of Houston's firefighters, noted on Off the Kuff, the City of Houston has been trying to do too much for too little for too long. While the population of the city of Houston grew approximately 8.5 percent from 2000-2006, the number of city workers actually fell by 9 percent. It's time for the city to make a serious investment in public services. All we need is a little foresight and some good will, and we can ensure 2008 marks a bright new future for everyone in Houston.

Doug Wieskopf is a Senior Library Services Specialist for the city and a member of the HOPE bargaining team. He's been with the city for 29 years.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 04, 2008 to Looking Forward to 2008