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Education support personnel demand higher wages in Houston

By Paul Hill

HOUSTON - On May 10, 2007 at least thirty labor supporters gathered in front of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Administration Building to support the Houston Education Support Personnel, Local 6315 (American Federation of Teachers). Support personnel are requesting that HISD conduct a national wage survey to compare the wages and salary structure of HISD employees with those in other school districts. They also demand that the incentive and pay system be restructured. Currently, support personnel in HISD have no seniority system.

Richard Shaw, Secretary-Treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO was present and led the participants in chants of "What do we want? Fair wages! When do we want it? Right now!" Also present was Gerry Birnberg, Chairman of the Harris County Democratic party. The crowd was ethnically diverse and included women and men. Unions represented included AFSCME, Sheet Metal Workers, AFT and UAW.

The demands have been presented to HISD Superintendant Abe Saavedra. It has been reported that Saavedra was hired with a contract that included:

* A starting base salary of $270,000.
* A $60,000 bonus if student performance improves.
* $1200 monthly cash car allowance.
* $400 monthly cash allowance for cell phones and P.D.A.s.

Wages and benefits total $384,200 per year for Dr. Saavedra, so he understands well the importance of making a living wage.

One truck driver told me that he had recently been laid off and was trying to get his job back. When I asked him if he is a union member, he said "Yes. That's the only place I get any support. If I wasn't with the union, I'd just be out there by myself."

A union organizer told me that the reason for the picket line was to improve the wages of all HISD personnel. She pointed out that wages for HISD have lagged behind the rest of the nation.

One union member said that when wages for some workers are raised, all working people benefit. However, he noted that when things are done to benefit the wealthy, the working people suffer.

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