TSEU CONTACT: HARRISON HINER
On January 8, 2013, Texas lawmakers convened for the 83rd Legislative Session. Going into this session, most state employees had gone for four years without a pay increase while state agencies were burdened with reduced services and low staffing levels as a result of the drastic budget cuts implemented in the 2011 legislative session when the state was experiencing a $27 billion budget shortfall. University employees had gone without a legislated, across-the-board raise since 2001. This time state lawmakers would have an $8.8 billion budget surplus and $11.8 billion available in the Rainy Day Fund, due to the comptroller’s conservative budget projections, which fueled the decision to make deep cuts last session.
Since the state’s budget situation had improved, money was available to restore the cuts to state services, authorize a competitive pay raise for state employees, and maintain our benefits. But history has taught us that the legislature never gives state employees anything unless state employees are organized and able to influence legislators through mobilizing around our issues. Just as we did in 2011, when we stopped attempts to furlough and cut our pay, TSEU members across the state organized themselves and co-workers and got involved by calling and visiting their representatives. This session, TSEU members participated in over 400 legislative visits at the capitol, generated thousands of phone calls, and sent 2700 pay raise post cards. On April 10th, over a thousand TSEU members from all corners of the state descended on the capitol for the 2013 Lobby Day March and Rally. Despite the rain and cold weather, TSEU’s presence was in full affect. Following Lobby Day, union members kept the pressure up by participating in weekly “Lobbying Blitzes” to protect our pensions and push for a pay raise. We didn’t get everything we wanted this session, but the tremendous work done by TSEU members pushed the legislature to end the four year drought of no pay raises, fund state employees’ health care plan (no employee premium sharing), and abandoned the idea of converting our pension plans to defined contribution plans (401k plans).
good news: We won a Pay Raise! bad news: It should have been more!
After a hard fought pay raise campaign, all state agency employees not receiving a targeted raise (details below) will receive a 1% raise or $50 per month minimum in September 2013 and a 2% raise or $50 per month minimum in September 2014. This amounts to a 3% or $1200 across-the-board increase over the two year period. Given the amount of money available in the budget, legislators could have done better! Three percent is not nearly enough to compensate state employees whose pay has fallen about 36% below the rate of inflation.
Targeted Pay Raises
Targeted pay raises will be given to certain state positions in place of the 3%/$1200 across-the-board pay raise. These positions experience some of the lowest pay and the highest turnover among all state employment.
- In a major victory, State Supported Living Center DSPs and State Hospital PNAs will receive a 10% across the board raise over the biennium.
- TDCJ-Correctional Officers are receiving a 5% across the board raise over the biennium
- CPS/APS Supervisor positions are being bumped up one pay grade, from B18 to B19
- Rubbing salt on the wound- Many top administrators received 40% pay raises, while those of us who make our agencies and universities work are left behind.
TSEU members pushed legislators to include Parole Officers in the 5% raise that TDCJ Correctional Officers are set to receive. Although a Parole Officer raise was not included, a targeted raise is still possible depending on the total funding the agency receives in the final budget. TSEU will continue to work on this issue.
University employees were once again left out of the pay raise that the legislature authorized for state agency employees. The fight does not end here for an across-the-board pay raise for university workers. TSEU will now shift the pay raise campaign to the campus level where we will organize and mobilize to persuade university budget makers to adopt campus-wide across-the-board pay raises rather than use available funds to implement merit raises.
Pension Changes (ERS and TRS)
The following chart and information reflect changes made during the 83rd Legislative Session
ERS related bills: CSHB 1882 and CSSB 1459 In the latter part of the session, CSHB 1882(CSSB 1459) and CSHB 1884(CSSB 1458) were passed out of the Senate State Affairs and House Pension committees; which were initially designed to significantly cut active employees’ earned retirement benefits for both ERS and TRS members.
TSEU members went all-out and flooded the capitol with phone calls and lobbying blitzes to fight the worst elements of HB 1882. HB 1882 failed on the house floor opening the door for more improvements in the Senate version of the bill (CSSB 1459). TSEU and other employee groups mounted a coordinated campaign to change several portions of the bill and push the state to put more money into the fund. Because of the pressure campaign mounted by union members across the state, TSEU was able to stop all the pension benefit cuts from being applied to current state employees and the state has brought up its contribution rate to its highest level since 1985. And although benefit design changes were made to future state employees, the overall compromise puts our pension fund on the path to actuarial soundness. TSEU is committed to restoring certain benefit changes for future employees.
Elements of ERS CSSB 1459
All current employees hired before August 31st, 2013 will be grandfathered from design changes in the pension plan
The state will increase its contribution to 7.5% in 2014 and 2015 (highest contribution level by the state since 1985).
Active state employee contributions will be increased over a 4-year period to 7.5% (employee contributions will increase in 2014 to 6.6%, 2015 to 6.9%, 2016 to 7.2%, 2017 to 7.5%)
ERS will be required to model TJJD Juvenile Justice Correctional Officers’ induction into the LECO Supplemental Retirement Fund.
Employees with 5 years in the system, as of 2014, will be grandfathered from the health care contribution tiering.
Benefit plan changes for those hired after August 31, 2013 * Increase final average salary to 60 months * Eliminate unused leave (sick & annual) for retirement eligibility * Disallow annual leave for which employee has been compensated from also being used in benefit calculation * Increase the minimum retirement age to 62 with the rule of 80; a 5% annuity reduction each year below age 62 when they retire * Tiered retiree health care premium contribution from the state . .10 years of service – 50% contribution / 15 years of service – 75% contribution / 20 years of service- 100% contribution
TRS related bill: CSSB 1458 TSEU, along with our teachers’ union allies, supported changes that exempted most current employees from the pension changes and provide a COLA to almost all current TRS retirees.
Elements of TRS CSSB 1458:
TRS members with at least 5 years of service will be excluded from the benefits changes
TRS members who retired on or before August 31, 2004 will receive a 3% annuity increase capped at $100 dollars a month.
Active state employee contributions will be increased over a 4-year period to 7.7% (employee contributions will increase in 2014 to 6.4%, 2015 to 6.7%, 2016 to 7.2%, 2017 to 7.7%)
The state will increase its contribution to 6.8% in 2014 and 2015
Benefit Plan Change * TRS members who are not grandfathered will see an increase in the minimum retirement age to 62 with the rule of 80; a 2% annuity reduction each year below age 62 when they retire.
Health Costs Rising Again this Year – sting lessened by pay raise, but more work needs to be done! This chart reflects new amounts:
Health Savings Accounts Defeated!
In an attempt to further water down our state employee health care benefits, the issue of Health Savings Accounts were introduced in the 83rd Legislative sesssion. Once again (as we have for the last several sessions in a row), TSEU members defended our health care benefits and defeated HB739 and SB255 which would have introduced health savings accounts into ERS.
The legislature restored most but not all of the funding and programs that were cut from state agencies in the previous session. For example, lawmakers increased funding to the Health and Human Services Commission by nearly $14 billion (40%) from last session’s budget. Other key agencies such as Department of Family Protective Services, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of State Health Services, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice all saw increases in their budgets.
Multiple pro-state employee/services riders that TSEU supported and pushed for were included in this session’s budget. Riders are amendments to the budget that instruct state agencies to carry out certain duties and functions. Some of these riders include: * Oversight and guidelines on private contracts in human services agencies * Night and weekend pay differential for SSLC’s, State Hospitals and TJJD facilities * SSLC, State Hospital, and TJJD employees will have access to on-site health care for injuries sustained on the job * Instruction for agencies to pay out compensatory time * On-call pay and relevant college degree pay for certain DFPS positions * Long term planning to meet the future funding and infrastructural needs of State Supported Living Centers and State Hospitals * TJJD will create a grievance procedure comparable to TDCJ
Higher Education Funding
TSEU’s “Fund Our Future” campaign to restore the 2011 higher education funding cuts spurred mixed results. Overall funding for higher education was increased by $669 million (4.4 %) for the new biennium. This is a restoration of around two-thirds of the nearly $1 billion that was cut last session. In a vacuum, this might seem like an improvement, however when inflationary operational costs and student enrollment growth are taken into consideration, Texas has punted on an opportunity to restore higher education funding. The biggest highlight from this session was that funding for the Texas Grant Program was increased by 25% to $724.6 million. This is the primary need-based student financial aid program managed by the state. This increase more than restored the funding cut from last session and will allow the program to cover 80 percent of students who qualify.
Other TSEU Legislative Victories
HB 480 Alvarado Allows state employees up to 8 hours of annual leave to attend educational activities of their children PASSED .
SB 771 Uresti Provides training for supervisors in the Department of Family and Protective Services before they start their job duties PASSED .
HB 739 and SB 255 Crownover and Deuell Introduces Health Savings Accounts into ERS DEFEATED .
HB 973 and HB 2444 Capriglione and Callegari Authorizing public retirement systems to release confidential information on its participants DEFEATED .
HB 231 Isaac Suspending Employees Retirement System of Texas annuity payments for employees who return to work for the state. DEFEATED
HB 291 and HB 2906 King and Harper-Brown Hiring freeze of nonessential personnel employed by a state agency. DEFEATED .
HB 3528 and SB 1766 Klick and Rodriguez The creation of the State Supported Living Center Realignment Commission aimed at closing and consolidating state supported living centers DEFEATED
Now that the 2013 legislative session has ended, the work to build our strength for the next legislative session starts now! An insufficient 3% across-the-board pay increase and cuts on retirement benefits for future employees tells us that most lawmakers still have not gotten the message on what state employees really need: a real pay raise that keeps up with the rising cost of living and secure health care and retirement benefits. We must begin the work of pulling more of our coworkers off the side lines and into the fight. That means asking more people to join the union and more TSEU members getting involved in COPE and in TSEU’s political program. The remarkable work union members did throughout this year’s session produced significant gains, such as increased agency funding, targeted pay increases for some of the lowest paid state employees, defeating the worst of the pension cuts, and getting the legislature to put more money into the pension fund than it has since 1985. We are not where we want to be, but we are surely headed in the right direction. Get involved in COPE and ask your co-worker to join TSEU today!