Fair Shot Legislative Agenda
COVID-19 hit Texas working families like a punch to the gut in 2020. Tragically, tens of thousands of loved ones died from the airborne disease and many more suffered. The pandemic fully exposed the poor state of worker safety and job security in our state.
Millions of Texas working people lost their jobs or faced unprecedented risks to their health to keep working. “Essential workers” facing new danger from the virus included nurses, grocery workers, immigrant meat-packers and farm workers, communications workers, correctional officers, First Responders, federal, state and local public employees, and others. Among unions, the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees was the first to feel the sting of mass layoffs, followed by unions representing flight attendants, electrical workers, elevator constructors, and hotel workers.
The immediate priorities of the United Legislative Labor Committee (ULLCO) of the Texas AFL-CIO focus on helping workers who have lost their jobs recover, avoiding unnecessary layoffs, and making sure adequate compensation is available. Texas must improve safety for working people who have kept the state’s economy going at serious risk to themselves.
Helping Working Families & Fixing Unemployment
The federal government responded to the impact of the novel coronavirus with direct economic aid in March 2020 under the CARES Act, which included $260 billion in additional Unemployment Insurance funding. Legions of laid-off and furloughed workers then had the awful experience of filing for unemployment compensation through a state system using computer software from the 1980s. The Texas AFL-CIO launched a campaign to urge the Texas Workforce Commission to speed payment of benefits, enlisting assistance of members of our state’s congressional delegation. This session we will work to pass our 10-Point Plan for Texas Unemployment Insurance Reform.
State, School and City Employees
Federal aid is critical to preserve state and local jobs and to maintain salaries and benefits. But the Legislature, which still has access to billions of dollars in the Rainy Day Fund, must step up as well. Pension contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Employees Retirement System (ERS) must be maintained. Cities should also be able to raise revenue for firefighter, EMS and other municipal employee pension funds. The COVID-19 crisis should in no way be used as an excuse to cut positions, reduce benefits, or increase the workload of teachers and other public employees.
Safety & Healthcare for All
Essential workers must remain safe to provide medical care or staff grocery stores. The Texas AFL-CIO supports legislation establishing a presumption of Workers’ Compensation coverage when at-risk employees contract COVID-19. In addition, we will work to expand Medicaid -- accepting billions of dollars for which the State of Texas remains eligible under federal law -- and to protect and expand earned paid sick leave for Texas workers.
Licensing, Certification, Apprenticeships, Green Energy Jobs, & Buy American Legislation
The Texas AFL-CIO supports continuation of the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners. Teachers, nurses, electricians and other professionals and skilled tradespeople should also maintain their certification, licensing and apprenticeship programs. The pandemic only underscores the stakes when it comes to workplace safety. Texans do not want unqualified employees providing them medical care, fixing their home electrical or plumbing systems, or teaching their children.
Education must remain accessible. Student loan debt is hampering young Texans more than ever. Texas should increase funding for public colleges and universities with an eye toward reducing student financial burdens. The state should help increase availability of registered union apprenticeships – a proven path to a lifelong career, great wages, and outstanding healthcare and pension benefits.
As more and more jobs emerge in the new Green Economy, the state has a role to play in making sure that these jobs are good, family-sustaining jobs. Economic and energy policy must place worker needs at the center of the conversation.
Raise Wages and Expand Benefits
One job should be enough! The state needs to raise the minimum wage and public employee pay, end wage theft and worker misclassification, protect and improve public pensions, make sure every Texas worker is covered by Workers’ Compensation insurance, and expand benefits like health care. To stop undermining wages, Texas also needs to promote Buying American, ending tax giveaways to corporations that ship Texas jobs overseas, and stopping unjustifiable loopholes and special treatment for other corporations.
To fulfill the state’s promises to state and public school employees, Texas must address funding of the Employees Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System to maintain actuarial soundness. The state should keep the current defined benefit plan and oppose attempts to convert a public employee pension to a defined contribution or hybrid plan.”
Fully Fund Safe Neighborhood Public Schools
Children need to be back in school, but our state must not rush to mandatory physical attendance before it is safe. That is why we are pushing to make sure educators and community leaders have a voice in reopening, to raise pay for those who educate our students, and to make sure families have access to affordable computers and high-speed internet for safe, remote learning.
Expand Broadband Access
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered our normal way of life. High-speed broadband Internet service has become even more of an indispensable utility, allowing workers to work remotely, educate our children, and connect with loved ones in a healthy and safe environment.
Unfortunately, many parts of Texas lack the infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband service; especially, in low-income and rural areas. Expanding high-speed broadband will allow some of the most vulnerable citizens to have access to jobs, education, and the ability to purchase goods and services during this pandemic. Expanding broadband access will also create more jobs for our state.
To effectively expand high-speed broadband in Texas, we need state legislation that will more accurately map regions throughout Texas that lack infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband and to identify underserved communities. Texas should create a public utilities regulatory structure to ensure that internet service providers are using their resources to expand access in underserved regions for the public good.
Justice for All
A minor offense shouldn’t bankrupt a family or stop someone from getting a job, credit, or housing. Every day, Texans face daunting fines or languish in jail because they cannot afford to settle simple traffic violations. The Texas labor movement is committed to working for an equal justice system that protects everyone’s liberty and safety. That means fighting human trafficking, including the coercion of laborers and the exploitation of immigrants, and reforming Texas’s marijuana laws and Class C misdemeanor law.
On the civil justice side, we will continue to fight payday lenders who engage in predatory practices. Sexual harassment should be made an unlawful employment practice. No employee should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Protect Workers’ Economic Freedom
The Legislature should not interfere with the freedom of employees to speak up together on the job for better working conditions. We continue to oppose legislation that would stifle the freedom of public employees to spend their hard-earned paychecks to pay dues to the organizations of their choice through payroll deduction.
Expand Voting and Protect Democracy
The Texas labor movement is committed to expanding access to the polls. A lesson of the pandemic is that our democracy works best when everyone participates. We will work to pass online and same-day voter registration, along with other measures that make it easier for every eligible Texan to cast a ballot.
Justice for Immigrant Workers
The federal government has failed to create the immigration system our nation deserves. We will work to protect all workers – regardless of immigration status – and will oppose state laws that create a subclass of workers who cannot speak up out of fear of deportation. We will help lead the opposition to using Texas tax dollars to build an unnecessary and divisive border wall.
A Future of Work That Lifts All Workers
Technological advances are improving the lives of many Texans, but some companies are seeking to avoid basic employer obligations. The rampant misclassification of workers in the gig economy is cheating workers out of important benefits and workplace protections. The federal government recognized the need to protect gig workers in the CARES Act. The State of Texas should insist on protections for all working families in our changing economy.