Texans face tough fights

DALLAS – With their two-thirds GOP majority in the Texas House, the right wing hopes to curtail the right of Texas workers to join unions.

A bill filed by one representative, for example, seeks to overturn current federal labor law which allows workers to form a union when a majority signs pledge cards and their employer agrees to the process..

The bill to cripple union organizing is only the tip of the iceberg packed with GOP measures that would turn back the clock in Texas.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo outlined the situation in an interview on KNON radio on January 3, just eight days before the biannual session of the Texas Legislature. Democrats lost 22 House seats in November, and two more by defections since then.

Even though Democrat Donna Howard narrowly won her race in Austin, her Republican challenger invoked a relatively obscure law that would allow the majority in the State House to determine who gets seated.

Even if Howard wins, Republicans would still have well over a two-thirds majority and could, as Alonzo said, initiate changes in the state constitution without regard for bipartisanship. “It’s going to be a trying time for all of us,” he told his radio audience.

The thousands of GOP bills already “pre-filed” point to big problems, including budget cuts, pro-Republican redistricting schemes and anti-immigrant laws.

The state’s budget deficit is estimated to be as high as $25 billion. “There’s a lot of services to the poor, for youth, for the elderly, that are going to be looked at,” Alonzo said. A number of Republican lawmakers have already advocated getting out of Medicaid, even though State Sen. Rodney Ellis and former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby told the Austin Statesman that “opting out” of Medicaid would cost Texas $20 billion a year that could not be replaced. 

Trial balloons about major cuts in public education are being lifted. Legally mandated limits in class sizes are under attack, with teacher job losses estimated in the thousands. Alonzo told the radio audience: “The leadership at all levels says yes … If I was a betting man, I would say there’s a good possibility that’s going to happen.” The Austin Statesman has carried a number of articles predicting cuts for public schools. 

Even though the Republicans running state government will redistrict for state representatives, state senators, and the State Board of Education, most of the publicity has focused on the U.S. House Districts. The nation was scandalized when former Republican leader Tom Delay maneuvered redistricting in 2002, but the results in 2011 are almost certain to be much worse for workers because population growth in Texas has created four new seats in the U.S. Congress. While northern states with somewhat more pro-worker lawmakers lost seats, Texas made the largest gains. “Seventy to 75 percent [of the new Texans] are Hispanic,” Alonzo noted, “but Hispanics don’t get to draw the districts. Republicans do.”

A large number of anti-immigrant bills have already been pre-filed. Alonzo said, “The big, big topic, according to all the polls, is going to be immigration. All sorts of immigration, what I would consider anti-immigrant bills.”

The Texas AFL-CIO is particularly concerned about bill number TX82RHB, pre-filed by Republican Rep. Charles Anderson of Waco. It would outlaw the “card check” process in union organizing drives, even if management approves it.

Representative Alonzo had hopeful advice for radio listeners, “People have to stay engaged. They have to know the process … You know, we’ve been through this before, and we have come back before!”

PW file photo: Texas Congressmembers Al Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee lead a march of 300 supporters through downtown Houston in March of 2007 demanding full funding for human needs programs.