The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

June 7, 2011

Pay raises still in place for TDCJ employees

HUNTSVILLE — There was major concern for Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees when they saw some the bills on the agenda for the this past state legislative session.

Bill Beucler, the vice president of the local 3807 chapter of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), felt like the union was fighting a “losing battle.”

But when the legislative session, which ran from January to the end of May, ended, TDCJ employees won some key victories.

AFSCME members were pleased to find out that a proposed House Bill which would result in a 7 percent pay cut for TDCJ employees did not go through.

“AFSCME came through again,” Beucler said Monday. “We were able to accomplish what we thought was a losing battle this session. We want people to know that the union is on their side and that any officer is welcome to be a part of it.”

That means that current employees will get to keep the extra money they earned from the 7 percent raise they got from the legislature last session. And folks looking to sign on as new correctional offers will not have to worry about earning less money.

Long-time Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer Robert Herring was hoping that potential new employees would have a little extra incentive to join up and that current staff members would not be losing money out of their pockets.

It all worked out in the end.

“That was great for current employees and it also gives some incentive for new people to join,” Herring said Monday afternoon. “The next two years, there is no pay increase, but this means that we will not lose any money either. There is some incentive now, which is good for everyone.”

The 7 percent pay cut was one of several areas that members of AFSCME had their eyes on during this legislative session.

Beuclerwas glad to see that House Bill 988, which proposed that accrued comp time for correctional officers stay on the books for two years has the potential to make it through.

Under the bill, TDCJ employees’ compensatory time would carry over to the next year, which would give employees more opportunity to take accured time. The Legislature passed this bill during the regular session, and it is now in on the desk of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry can either sign the bill, veto it or do nothing, which would allow the bill to pass.

“We were glad to see that bill get through. Now it is up to Rick Perry,” Beucler said. “It is waiting on his signature. If he doesn’t sign it or veto it, it can still be approved. We won’t know until July when the special session is over.”

A couple of the House bills that AFSCME opposed did not pass. One was aimed at nullifying unions in the state of Texas. Even though the office of the bill’s author, Rep. Tan Parker, R-Denton, recently tried to explain to TDCJ employees that the bill sought to influence national not state unions, public employees were still concerned.

Though the bill did not make it through the Texas Legislature, something like it is causing a stir in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker recently passed a similar bill despite heated public protests. The Wisconsin Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a lawsuit concerning the controversial case Monday.

“(The Texas) bill did not go through, and we were happy to see that,” Beucler added.

The TDCJ union also opposed House Bill 1166, which would have levied a $30 surcharge on employees who choose to use tobacco, and HB 2954, which would have eliminated longevity pay for state employees. Neither bill passed.

A bill sponsored by Rep. James Madden, R-Plano, would have eliminated free or low-rent prison housing for TDCJ employees. This measure also failed. Earlier in the session, Madden abandoned a measure that would have moved the TDCJ headquarters from Huntsville to Austin. In addition to the efforts of union members, State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who represents Walker County, advocated on behalf of TDCJ employees against Madden’s measures.

“The overall package, looking back to January when things looked dim, we are pleased with,” Beucler said. “Through long, hard work from union members, we were able to reach a point that was satisfying for all officers. Nothing was taken away from them and nothing was added.”

Herring still has questions about some of the topics brought up during the session — like how the money generated by oil wells on TDCJ property is used.

“There are oil wells on state land, and there are some on at the Ferguson Unit,” Herring said. “I want to know where that revenue is going. They say that it is going into the general fund for the state of Texas. With all the layoffs they are making in the public education system, why can’t some of that money go to help the teachers?

“There are a lot of questions out there that we would like to know the answers to.”

Beucler encouraged TDCJ employees to get involved with AFSCME to learn more about pressing issues and what the union is doing to help out. The local chapter meets at 7 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at the Barrett Building, 1314 10th St. Suite 107.

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