By James Thompson
HOUSTON - According to a press release dated 3/21/08, Houston city employees voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract between the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE), and the City of Houston. HOPE members voted 3,237 to 7 in favor of the three-year agreement.
Ballots were counted on 3/20/08 at the Kelley Solid Waste facility and the tally was monitored by prominent community leaders, including Rev. James Nash of Sunnyside Presbyterian Church and Laura Boston of the Houston Interfaith Workers' Center.
The agreement now awaits approval by the Houston City Council. If approved, it will be the first union contract between a Texas city and its civilian municipal workers.
Patricia Mathis, a HOPE bargaining team member and management analyst with the Houston Police Department, is quoted in the press release as saying, "The contract will enhance quality public services for the city and ensure a living wage for every city worker."
The contract would mean a 45% raise for the lowest-paid city employees. City employees would have a minimum wage of $10 an hour by September under this contract. There will be an immediate across-the-board 3 percent pay increase for about 13,000 city employees, to be followed by increases in 2010 and 2011. A minimum wage of $9.50 for all city employees will be effective immediately, if approved.
The new contract will have a positive effect on Houston's struggling neighborhoods, where many city workers live. Hope estimates that the wage increases in the contract will generate an additional $120 million in economic activity in low income neighborhoods like the Third Ward and East End over the next three years.
According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Mayor Bill White's spokesman, Frank Michel, declared, "We think it's good for both the employees and taxpayer. It's the right thing to do."
James Thompson is a psychologist and social justice activist in Houston
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