The final gavel has fallen on the end of another session of the Texas Legislature, and once again lawmakers utterly failed state employees and retirees.
The state’s budget just passed by Legislators on Sunday, amidst so much back-slapping and self-congratulation, puts most state employees on a path to go their seventh year without a dime in raises. The state’s retired employees are in even worse shape. They’re now set to go a full two decades without an increase to their pensions, and the Employees Retirement System is set to run out of money by 2096.
But who cares about state employees? Fat cat bureaucrats with easy desk jobs. They’ll be fine, right?
Contrary to popular belief, there are tens of thousands of state workers who make less than $30,000/year. Thousands of them work in Austin- serving the intellectually disabled at the State Supported Living Center, caring for those with mental illness at the State Hospital, tending to our beautiful spaces at state parks like McKinney Falls, protecting our elders and children from abuse at Family Protective Services, serving unemployed job-seekers at the Workforce Commission, teaching Texas kids valuable life skills at the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf, researching dangerous diseases at State Health Services, and helping low-income Texans with public assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF. These are all critically important functions that benefit millions of Texans.
When state employees can no longer afford to work for the state, these public services suffer- wait times increase, fewer Texans get helped, and the vulnerable among us are put at great risk. Currently, our state government’s workforce is going through its highest level of turnover since records began in 1990. State employees are quitting in their tens of thousands every year. And their number one complaint? Low pay. According to exit surveys 71% of state employees who quit the job last year went on to a higher paying job. And 32% were going on to a job that paid them more than $10,000/year above their state job.
So why did lawmakers ignore the pleas for a pay raise from their employees this year, especially when they were so eager to increase salaries for teachers and even accepted a $4,300/year pay raise for themselves? Perhaps it’s because state employees serve the most marginalized and voiceless in our society. Everyone has been taught by a teacher, but not many of us have ever had to deal with a Food Stamp (SNAP) eligibility worker or a psychiatric nurse at a state hospital. Just like the people that state employees serve, lawmakers thought they could get away (once again) with sweeping state employees under the rug.
The Texas State Employees Union and our 10,000 members are here to say, “No, not this time you won’t.” We will continue this fight in the interim. The stakes are too high.
TSEU is now calling on lawmakers and the Legislative Budget Board to approve an emergency, across-the-board, flat amount pay raise for all state workers and increased funding for the ERS pension to put it on a path to full funding. The LBB has this power and has used it in the past. Most recently when they provided emergency raises for CPS caseworkers and investigators in 2016.
It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now.
Seth Hutchinson is a VP at Texas State Employees Union.