Houston city workers: We want respect! Put it in the check!

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HOUSTON — About 500 members and supporters of the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE) marched from Tranquility Park in downtown Houston to City Hall on Nov. 1, demanding fair wages for city workers.

HOPE represents a collaborative effort between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

Currently, Houston city workers are paid 21 percent less than their counterparts in other Texas cities such as Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Contract negotiations between the city and its public workers’ unions are currently under way.

Workers are demanding Houston Mayor Bill White pay the 1,000 city employees working for less than $10-an-hour a “living wage.” The city has so far only offered guaranteed 2 percent raises each year for four years. White wants to set aside some money and let supervisors hand out larger raises on a “merit” basis.

Robert Joseph, a member of HOPE, told the World, “We’re here because we’re trying to ratify a contract with the city of Houston. We’re seeking fair wages and the biggest issue is the health care benefits. Affordable health care is a problem for quite a few city employees.”

When asked if city employees have health care, Joseph replied, “We have health care benefits, but our wages are so low we can’t afford to cover ourselves and our children.”

Ruby Jones, a worker from Parks and Recreation, told HOPE supporters that she has worked for six years with children and has three children of her own. She said she loves working with children, but she makes only $7.80 an hour.

Jones knows it is important to tell children to stay in school so they can ultimately find a job, but says it is hard to convince them to do so when they see how low her pay is. “We can’t teach our kids the value of working hard if working hard doesn’t pay a living wage,” she said.

Charles Steele of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave a rousing call to action, even though his microphone was without power for a few minutes.

Referring to the low pay received by many African American public workers, he said, “Call it like it is — it’s racism. People of color are considered second-class citizens. It’s 2007 and the mayor is acting like its ’37.”

Steele continued: “Nobody is going to give you anything. You have to fight for everything you get in this society. They [referring to city management] don’t care about you. Martin Luther King died in Memphis fighting for the sanitation workers and here we are 40 years later fighting for the same thing. Houston, the whole world is looking at you!”

The crowd was loud and enthusiastic. It was supported by notable labor and community leaders such as Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), the Rev. William Lawson, Deacon Sam Dunning, Houston City Councilmembers Sue Lovell and Peter Brown, candidate for City Council John Marron, candidate for U.S. Senate Rick Noriega, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, Harris County AFL-CIO President Dale Wortham, Harris County Secretary-Treasurer Richard Shaw, and the Rev. John Bowie.

One of the speakers at the rally declared, “Houston, we have a problem — a problem of low wages. Because we march, we can create change. People who march make history. People who march make change.”

A march through downtown Houston was held and marchers were enthusiastic when they exclaimed, “We want respect! Put it in the check!”

For more information about the HOPE organization, visit .

phill1917 @comcast.net