Hundreds of members of the Texas State Employees Union on Wednesday marched to the Capitol to push for pay raises and oppose the privatization of foster care services.
The workers — chanting “Union-busting is disgusting” and “They say privatize, we say organize” — urged lawmakers to tap the state’s rainy day fund, which is projected to reach $11.9 billion in the next budget cycle, rather than make severe cuts to state agencies and public universities.
“Stop pretending like Texas is broke and start spending on services that actually help Texans like higher education, Medicaid, state supported living centers for the intellectually disabled, state hospitals for the mentally ill and protecting abused kids,” said Judy Lugo, president of the 11,000-member union, which is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.
Speakers at the rally applauded plans in the House and Senate that would increase funding for the scandal-plagued Child Protective Services by more than $400 million, but they assailed an aspect of the reform plan that would privatize many foster care services.
“With privatization it’s more of a moneymaking agency than one of services, so our children will fall through the cracks even more,” said Claudia Esquivel, 47, a CPS adoption supervisor in Laredo. “They’re going to privatize to someone who will in turn privatize to somebody else and somebody else, so at the end of the day no one’s going to want to take accountability or responsibility for anything that happens to our children.”
The union members spent the rest of Wednesday lobbying lawmakers in their Capitol offices on a long list of priorities, including increasing pension payments to retired state employees, pushing back against significant cuts to higher education in the Senate’s budget plans and voting against bills that would prohibit some unions from collecting dues through deductions from members’ paychecks. They also oppose the hiring freeze Gov. Greg Abbott implemented in January.
The workers face an uphill battle in persuading the conservative Legislature to adopt their priorities.