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Council OKs contract with HOPE

The collective bargaining agreement that was ratified by HOPE last week has now been officially accepted by City Council.

Houston municipal workers celebrated Wednesday after the City Council approved a union contract that will give 13,200 employees an immediate 3 percent raise.

The 13-2 vote made Houston the first city in Texas to sign a pact with employees who are not police officers or firefighters.

“We have made history,” said Wanda Sterling, a customer service representative for the municipal courts. “I think it was worth the battle.”

The three-year contract will cost the city $5.2 million this fiscal year, but $179 million overall. The pact calls for additional across-the-board 3 percent pay raises in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

The contract also guarantees that all workers will earn at least $10 an hour by September of next year. That will affect about 1,000 workers who currently earn annual wages below $20,400 — the federal poverty level for a family of four.

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Council members Toni Lawrence and Mike Sullivan voted against the pact.

“It should not have been across the board,” Lawrence said. She also said she did not like that workers making six figures would get the 3 percent raise, too.

For example, the mayor’s chief of staff, Michael Moore, is paid $115,760 a year. The 3 percent raise will mean an extra $3,473 for him. By contrast, a refuse truck driver who earns $20,958 annually will see an additional $628 from the first raise.

Lawrence wanted a cap on increases for higher pay grades, which would leave more money for the lower-paid employees.

“Our goal for HOPE (the union) was to help the people making minimum wage,” Lawrence said.

But [Mayor Bill] White said higher-paid professionals, such as city attorneys, could get poached by the private sector, so the city has to stay competitive at all pay levels.

I can understand Council Member Lawrence’s reasoning, but I disagree with it. Inflation affects people at Michael Moore’s salary level, too. And Mayor White is correct about the need to pay professional staff a competitive wage. I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to reject the agreement.

Sullivan said he opposed the contract as a fiscal conservative.

“It’s just a huge amount of money,” he said. “It’s the starting point for future costs.”

Sullivan said he wanted more time to find out if turnover really was a problem for the city, and if jobs were not getting done because of vacant positions.

“Is it a matter of just giving employees a raise to feel good, or is it necessary to keep the employees that we have?” he asked. “I’m not convinced that being the first city in Texas to have unionized employees is something to be proud of.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just putting ideology ahead of everything else. By that reasoning, you can reject any raise for city employees. And with all due respect, these negotiations took place over nearly a year. There’s been plenty of time to answer those questions about turnover and vacancies.

Be that as it may, I think this is a good day for the city and its workers. Congratulations to all for a job well done.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

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One Comment

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    I rarely agree with, let alone support, any position of Toni Lawrence’s but in this case I do – inflation impacts the lower echelon far more than it does the upper echelon.

    As for some of the “professionals” the mayor refers to, most wouldn’t last very long in the private sector.