© 2019 Texas AFL-CIO created/OPEIU 298

Texas AFL-CIO Daily E-Mail News Highlights:

 June 2017-June 2019

 

2017

June

 

  Gov. Greg Abbott called a July special legislative session on 20 topics, including a repeat attempt to pass a payroll dues deduction bill. The bill would take away the freedom of public employees to allocate a portion of their own paychecks to pay dues to a labor association of their choosing. The session call also included the so-called “bathroom bill” that targeted LGBTQ Texans and several measures reducing the power of cities to enact ordinances.

 

  Gov. Abbott signed SB 1289, a “Buy American” bill backed by labor. The law gives a modest preference to purchase American iron or steel on a publicly funded project. 

 

  The Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention took note of negative developments in the first six months of the Trump administration. Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick said unions are “at the core of a mighty resistance.” Among key actions, delegates added a new Ethical Practices Code and anti-harassment/anti-discrimination provision to the Texas AFL-CIO Constitution. The first class of the Ruth Ellinger Labor Leaders School – a new vehicle for developing the movement – graduated amid much celebration.

 

July

  
  Texas is at the center of a national power struggle between states and cities, The New York Times reports, citing SB 4, which could impose penalties on local officials for failing to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Also, under attack: Local laws on workplace benefits and ordinances protecting LGBTQ communities, such as Austin’s “Better Builder” program and anti-discrimination ordinances in several cities.

 

  AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka criticized the framework for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, suggesting it could lead to a treaty that is no better for working people than the existing one.

 

 Sean Spicer resigned as President Trump’s first Press Secretary.

 

 The Texas Senate approved the payroll dues deduction bill on a 19-12 vote, sending it to the Texas House for further consideration. The Senate passed almost the entirety of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-bill agenda in less than 10 breakneck days. The Texas House, however, resisted payroll dues deduction, flushed the “bathroom bill” and discarded the most significant assaults on the powers of cities.

 

 U.S. Sen. John McCain, dying from brain cancer, cast a decisive and unexpected vote to save the Affordable Care Act from repeal. Repeal would have knocked 20 million Americans out of coverage and ended protection for pre-existing conditions. McCain’s vote launched President Trump into a political rampage against the senator – a national hero – that continued long after his death.

 

 Anthony Scaramucci resigned as President Trump’s Communications Director after 10 days.

 

August

 

   Hurricane Harvey took a modest death toll for a storm of its size – a tribute to preparation and the heroism of First Responders – but did tens of billions of dollars of damage to Texas property, making it one of the worst storms in state history. Working Texans helped those struck hardest in the Houston region, the Coastal Bend region and many points between. The Texas AFL-CIO, joined by the national AFL-CIO, launched a disaster response program and a drive that was to raise more than $700,000 for storm victims.

 

 Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick declared, “We will fight racism at every turn” following the death of a young woman hit by a car intentionally during a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka decried “domestic terrorism.” President Trump said there were “some very fine people on both sides.”

 

 In a major victory for working families, the Texas House dramatically killed payroll dues deduction. The 49-76 vote on a floor amendment was a bipartisan rejection of the measure and a clear signal that the assault on working families by right-wing national anti-union forces had lost to a union movement in complete solidarity.

 

 Citing chronic back problems, Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick announced he would retire in December. Secretary-Treasurer Rick Levy said Patrick “leaves a legacy of integrity, solidarity and generosity of spirit in his service to our movement.”

 

 Steve Bannon resigned from his White House job and returned to Breitbart News.

 

 An East Texas judge finalized an order overturning an Obama-era rule that would have substantially raised the threshold for salaried workers to receive overtime pay. The Trump Labor Department would later dramatically reduce that threshold. Under current law, salaried workers could potentially receive less than the minimum wage.

 

September

 

  AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, in a detailed work session with Texas AFL-CIO officers, Executive Board members and key international reps, led the way in building a recovery plan for Hurricane Harvey that included unprecedented investment by the national labor federation to help victims of the storm. The meeting triggered record donations of money and supplies, along with a huge volunteer effort by the Texas labor movement.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO blasted President Trump’s decision to end the DACA (Dreamers) program for young immigrants. Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick accused the White House and the State of Texas of engaging in “hypocrisy and injustice.”

 

 The Austin City Council announced plans to name a street for former Texas AFL-CIO Administrative Assistant Azie Taylor Morton, who went on to become U.S. Treasurer under President Carter.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board chose Rick Levy as President-elect and Montserrat Garibay of Education Austin as the next Secretary-Treasurer. In a valedictory to the Executive Board, outgoing President John Patrick said his term as President was the greatest honor of his life. “The immortal Dr. Seuss once declared, ‘Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.’ I might depart from that wonderful advice a little bit with a tear or two, but I promise you, my Brothers and Sisters, that they are tears of joy.”

 

October

 

   Following devastation by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the AFL-CIO, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and United Airlines teamed up to fly more than 300 first responders and skilled volunteers, along with 35,000 pounds of supplies to the island to help with relief and rebuilding efforts.

 

   The Texas AFL-CIO mourned the death of D.L. “Dally” Willis, who for more than 60 years was the face of the Permian Basin Central Labor Council and a key United Labor Legislative Committee lobbyist. His three pieces of advice to lobbyists: “1) Be nice; 2) Be nice; and 3) Be nice.”

 

 SAG-AFTRA commended women in the entertainment industry who came forward to accuse the powerful producer Harvey Weinstein of a pattern of sexual misconduct. The accusations would later lead to criminal charges and the episode bolstered the AFL-CIO’s determination to combat workplace harassment wherever it occurs.

 

November

 

 The Houston Astros, a team with several strong union connections, won the World Series for the first time in team history. Among other things, at home games IBEW Local 716 makes regular appearances in stadium advertising and outfield star George Springer’s grandfather was a highly regarded activist with the American Federation of Teachers.

 

 Despite a rare postponement to allow union members to focus on the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Texas AFL-CIO/Walter Umphrey Golf Tournament succeeded in all respects, capably overseen once again by Texas AFL-CIO Director of Field Education & Research Joe Arabie.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO mourned mass shooting victims at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A hero who confronted the shooter and almost certainly prevented more deaths, Stephen Willeford, is a member of UAPP Local 142.

 

 U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, a union member and outstanding advocate for organized labor, announced he would retire after his current term in office.

 

 Houston was named host of the 2018 AFL-CIO Civil and Human Rights Conference, a national event that honors the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 Working families in Missouri collected way more than enough signatures to place repeal of a recently enacted so-called “right to work” law on the ballot in the “Show-Me” state.

 

December

 

 The White House proposed a rule that would allow employers to choose to confiscate tips so long as tipped workers made the minimum wage. The ensuing uproar included thousands of comments from labor activists.

 

 The Texas State and Gulf Coast Building Trades Councils announced in Houston the graduation of the first participants in a new Apprenticeship-Readiness Program. The graduates were matched with labor unions to embark on paid apprenticeships and, if they persisted, solid middle-class careers. The program would be replicated in other parts of the state.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO mourned the passing of Brother Joe Campbell, a retiree of the erstwhile Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers but better known at our conventions as a frequent singer of the national anthem. Campbell was also a member of the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and it showed every time he sang.

 

2018

January

 

  Eighteen states and many more cities enacted increases in the minimum wage, mainly automatic cost-of-living rises based on inflation. Some are as high as $15 an hour, but in Texas, the pathetic $7.25 federal minimum remained the floor throughout the state.

 

  Privatization of some IRS debt collection cost taxpayers $20 million but only brought in $6 million, The New York Times reported. Just as bogus: the private collectors got 25 percent commissions.

 

  Vox Media recognized an employee union, continuing organizing momentum in both electronic and traditional media. Later in the month, reporters at the Los Angeles Times – for decades a non-union newspaper – and writers at Slate signed on with the NewsGuild.

 

  The 2019 AFL-CIO Civil and Human Rights Conference mobilized activists on human rights, civil rights, economic rights and labor rights. Led by Claude Cummings of CWA and Clara Caldwell of APRI, the Texas host contingent in Houston mobilized to hold the plenary sessions and participate in a major parade honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay received an “Eyes on the Prize” award for her work on immigration.

 

  The Texas AFL-CIO COPE Convention featured a gubernatorial debate, endorsements of candidates and wall-to-wall organizing for the 2018 election. Lupe Valdez received the endorsement for Governor and dozens of legislative and congressional candidates won labor’s nod as an auspicious political year revved forward.

 

February

 

  

   Sister Gwen York of the Transport Workers Union died tragically on Valentine’s Day, the result of a fall as she walked in a parking garage. She was a leader in advancing the role of women in the labor movement. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy called York “an incredibly strong woman who understood that all of us get stronger when we share our strength.”

 

 AFGE fought back as acute shortages of correctional officers forced other working people in federal prisons to take on guard duties.

 

 The Austin City Council approved the first paid sick leave ordinance in the South, voting overwhelmingly to give all private-sector workers a basic benefit that would let them stay home when they or a family member are ill.

 

  The Texas AFL-CIO COPE endorsed Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate. The COPE slate had omitted O’Rourke because he did not attend the COPE Convention or make other arrangements. O’Rourke took responsibility for the endorsement delay and met with labor groups around the state to make amends.

 

 The U.S. Women’s Hockey Team won a hard-fought gold medal at the Winter Olympics, highlighting the team’s long battle to get equal pay with the men’s team. Their efforts brought annual pay from about $6,000 to $70,000, Fortune Magazine reported.

 

   A procedural ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on White House efforts to do away with the Obama-era executive order that protected Dreamers. The vanishing of a March 5 deadline allowed Dreamers to renew their status.

 

March

 

  President Ronald Reagan was inducted posthumously into the Trump Labor Department’s “Hall of Honor,” joining the likes of Frances Perkins, Eugene V. Debs, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and making one wonder whether there might be a place in the McCoy family cemetery for a Hatfield.

 

 The West Virginia Legislature approved a 5 percent pay raise for teachers following an unauthorized, unprecedented, technically illegal but monumentally effective nine-day strike. Strikes in several more states followed the Mountain State teachers’ lead.

 

  In a primary election with more ups than downs, history was made when Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar won labor-backed nominations for the U.S. House in Houston and El Paso, respectively. The nominations were tantamount to election in heavily Democratic districts and would make them the first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress.

 

 A federal appeals court allowed most of SB 4 – the “show me your papers” immigration law – to take effect. Law officers in major cities had opposed the measure, saying it would undermine community policing.

 

 The death of physicist Stephen Hawking prompted a revisit of his many theories on the future of humanity. Hawking’s take on artificial intelligence – that machines may exceed human intelligence in the same proportion that humans exceed that of snails – prompted him to support the Labour Party in England.

 

 “Americans like unions.” That was the conclusion of a Gallup Poll that found 61 percent approval of unions – a level that had not been touched in 50 years.

 

 A budget amendment in Congress killed a White House proposal that would have allowed employers to confiscate tips. 

 

April

 

  The White House announced plans to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, throwing into serious doubt whether the largest states would be able to obtain an accurate count and the full measure of political representation and federal programs.

 

 In a strategic meeting of affiliates from around the state, the Texas AFL-CIO laid out plans to fulfill a COPE Convention resolution to launch a Citizenship Drive program to help eligible residents apply for citizenship. The program has since launched and expanded, drawing on local volunteers, including volunteer immigration attorneys. Many working people benefiting from the program are members of unions.

 

 A survey by the Economic Policy Institute found that more than two-thirds of non-union private-sector workers in Texas are subject to forced arbitration. The imposed provisions came under renewed fire because of their role in silencing victims of on-the-job sexual harassment or assault.

 

 The Texas Public Policy Foundation sued to stop the Austin paid sick leave ordinance, alleging the benefit was really a “minimum wage increase” that is barred at the local level. 

 

May

 

 Arizona teachers who walked off the job ended their strike after the Legislature approved a bill providing a 20 percent pay raise over three years.

 

 Reporters at the Chicago Tribune, another newspaper that systematically staved off union organizing for decades, chose to authorize the NewsGuild to negotiate their employment terms.

 

 A teen at Santa Fe High School killed 10 people and injured at least 10 others, continuing a string of mass shootings. One of the victims, Christian "Riley" Garcia, son of Darryl Claussen Jr. of CWA, died while holding and blocking a door to save two of his classmates.

 

 COPE-endorsed candidates won the majority of Democratic runoff contests, including gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez.

 

 President Trump issued three executive orders undermining the ability of the American Federation of Government Employees and other unions to speak up together for a better workplace. AFGE would take the matter to court the next day, postponing the rigged rules.

 

June

 

 The staff of the New Yorker, another bastion of non-union publishing, signed up for representation with NewsGuild-New York.

 

 As the #MeToo movement picked up steam, a new SAG-AFTRA contract with TV networks includes a provision limiting the places where auditions may occur to avoid “casting couch” incidents of predatory behavior.

 

 The Trump administration introduced a policy of separating children from their families when the families are seeking asylum. The Texas AFL-CIO protestied. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay joined protests at child detention facilities in El Paso and Tornillo.

 

 The Labor Caucus at the Texas Democratic Convention was standing room only. Union delegates contributed to a party platform that included support for a living wage, paid sick leave, strengthening of Social Security, health care for all, and robust labor unions. In the wake of child separation at the border, the convention held a giant Keeping Families Together rally as well.

 

 Delivering an anti-union 5-4 decision in Janusv. AFSCME Council 31, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively made the entire U.S. a so-called “right to work” jurisdiction for public employees. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy’s reaction: “"Reject the dark web of corporate interests that produced Janusand join us in the fight. Texas unions stand for the antidote to the status quo: a fair shot for all working families." Public employee unions like AFSCME and AFT had already stepped up national one-on-one organizing to address the case – painstaking work that would bear fruit.

 

July

 

  The AFL-CIO called for rejection of Brett Kavanaugh as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, saying he had a record of siding with wealthy interests over working families. Ultimately, the Senate would confirm him 50-48.

 

 The American Federation of Teachers calculated that Texas has cut $2.5 billion from public education in the last decade. Only Florida cut more in the same time period, AFT reported. The cuts here were accompanied by an unsuccessful drive to enact vouchers and a continuing effort to elevate questionable charter schools.

 

 AFGE stepped up a #RedforFeds program, drawing solidarity from millions of union members who object to a White House effort to take away the union’s voice. In short order, a federal court would set aside three White House executive orders that aim to weaken the union.

 

August

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship Program paid out $43,500, for the first time raising the amount of each grant to $1,500. The success of the program in large part stems from the generosity of donors to the Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship Fund.

 

 With some help from Texas union activists, Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a so-called “right to work” law enacted by the “Show Me” State’s Legislature. Turnout was tremendous for an August election and non-union members rejected in bipartisan fashion an attempt by billionaires to take away the voices of working families.

 

 The Gallup poll on union popularity ROSE from the previous already high level – to 62 percent approval.

 

 An insured Education Austin member who suffered a heart attack and was taken to out-of-network emergency care received a hospital bill for $109.000, much of it attributable to “balance billing.” When NPR profiled the situation, the bill was eventually negotiated down to $332.29.

 

September

 

 As the #MeToo movement continued to reform workplaces, UNITE HERE obtained promises from several major hotel chains to provide “panic buttons” to maids and other workers who enter hotel rooms.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO blasted a “public charge” proposal by the Trump White House that would have denied benefits to green card holders. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay called the idea “un-American.”

 

 An Amazon training video warns supervisors on what to look for to scope out employee interest in speaking up together through a union. Among the Captain Obvious trouble flags: wearing union t-shirts, hats or jackets.

 

 Texas broke records for voter registration, eclipsing the 15.6 million mark with time left for more.

 

October

 

  Amazon announced it was adopting a $15 an hour wage floor and would advocate for a higher federal minimum wage. The move was credited to employees who agitated for better pay, but it did not end friction stemming from a perpetual speedup and overbearing monitoring that poison working conditions at the retail behemoth.

 

 “A Grand Alliance to Save the U.S. Postal Service” geared up to fight efforts by the White House to privatize a mail service whose origins date to Benjamin Franklin. The Alliance, which includes union representing postal employees, said Congress is to blame for demanding unique advance pension contributions and hamstringing the ability of USPS to compete in related businesses. The Texas AFL-CIO, in a solidarity news release, declared, “Don’t Mess With USPS!”

 

 Charles Parks, a graduate of the MC3 (Multi-Craft Core Curriculum) pre-apprentice program run by the Building Trades, performed CPR that he learned in his class on a worker who suffered a massive heart attack at the South Texas Project. Parks was credited with saving the man’s life. CPR is just one of many skills pre-apprentices learn as they prepare to be matched to an apprentice program that can lead to a solid middle-class career.

 

 The National Nurses Organizing Committee announced it had a tentative contract deal covering 7,000 registered nurses at 10 HCA hospitals, including four in Texas. The agreements run until June 30, 2021.

 

 UNITE HERE reports workers in United Airlines catering kitchens in five cities, including Houston, have voted to speak up together through the union.

 

 Early voter turnout in the Texas Democratic primary set all sorts of records, looking more like a presidential year than an “off year” in large counties.

 

 Responding to President Trump’s announcement that he would try to end birthright citizenship by fiat, Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said: “"Birthright citizenship is at the heart of immigrant rights, guaranteeing equal opportunity, equal justice and a fair shot for anyone born in the USA. No President can commandeer that right so long as the rule of law stands."

 

November

 

 Non-union Google employees walked off the job to protest lenient treatment of company executives who engaged in sexual harassment. At issue: a forced arbitration clause on the subject.

 

 In an election where “everything” was at stake, a major step forward for working families turned Texas into a battleground state. Beto O’Rourke, whose 254-county campaign paid large dividends up and down the ballot, lost by three percentage points to incumbent Ted Cruz and other statewide candidates cut margins that had been in double-digits for several election cycles to single digits. Colin Allred’s victory over a long-standing Republican incumbent contributed to the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House. Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate – the first time this century that Democrats had multiple Senate gains in a general election. Democrats swept Harris County for the first time in decades. "A new era has arrived in Texas politics and this is only the beginning," Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. 

 

 At the national level, perhaps the sweetest win for labor came in Wisconsin, where Tony Evers defeated Gov. Scott Walker, who had systematically sought to dismantle the voices of working families during his tenure. 

 

 Elections matter. Notably absent from early bill filings at the Texas Legislature: the “bathroom bill,” immigrant bashing and attacks on worker freedom.

 

 Thanks to the amazing organizing of its workers, BookPeople became the first unionized bookstore in Texas. Employees chose to speak through the Office and Professional Employees International Union. BookPeople is a quintessential Austin business, well worth a visit – in person or online – for anyone who loves books and a bewildering array of other merchandise organized around the written word.

 

 A panel of the 3rdCourt of Appeals ruled that Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance was an illegal minimum wage increase. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said the court was “out of touch” with what it means to work for a living. A saving grace: the election sent two of the judges who wrote the opinion packing.

 

December

 

  The Texas Workforce Commission proposed a rule that would declare the large majority of gig economy workers to be independent contractors for purposes of Unemployment Insurance. The Texas AFL-CIO blasted the proposal, saying it would set a terrible precedent denying working families basic workplace benefits, and later submitted formal comments opposing the rule.

 

 Lame-duck Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a package of bills seeking to take power away from his successor. Similar attempts in other states where Republicans lost on Election Day would follow. Meanwhile, lame-duck Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills thwarting popular votes to raise the minimum wage and enact paid sick leave.

 

 A federal judge in Fort Worth declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Judge Reed O’Connor employed an outrageous bootstrapping argument, saying portions of the law that have been set aside render the parts of the law that added 20 million Americans to the health care rolls and covered pre-existing conditions unsustainable. The Texas AFL-CIO condemned the opinion, which would be appealed. Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who are responsible for the attack on ACA, applauded.

 

2019

January

 

    The American Federation of Government Employees, stymied by a government shutdown that locked out almost half the 800,000 federal workers and forced “essential personnel” – the majority – to work without a paycheck, went to court over the forced unpaid service. Ultimately, the shutdown would last 35 days. Along with participation in protests, the Texas AFL-CIO and several Central Labor Councils launched successful food drives to help AFGE families when the absence of paychecks kicked in. Note of outrage: Under state law, Texas did not pay Unemployment Insurance to federal workers forced to work without paychecks.

 

 The Texas labor movement mourned Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, who made unions an integral part of the growth of the business from upstart to dominant force. Kelleher, who died at age 87, was an honorary member of the Transport Workers Union, a true rarity for a CEO. Kelleher preached treating employees like customers and gained extraordinary productivity in the process.

 

 As the 86thsession of the Texas Legislature gaveled in, Texas State Employees Union members made a strong case for across-the-board pay raises for state employees. Sadly, that would not happen despite the state’s relatively strong financial position. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, and the final budget would provide for public school pay raises across the state.

 

 The Texas AFL-CIO announced a “Fair Shot Agenda” for the legislative session, broadening the state federation’s base of advocacy to include not just workplace legislation but matters like criminal justice reform, student loan debt and policies on artificial intelligence. The common theme: “a fair shot for better lives.”

 

 The General Counsel of the Trump National Labor Relations Board decided that one of the most important things he could engage in was not about wages, benefits or other important workplace matters. He went on a rampage against Scabby the Rat, an inflatable used by labor unions to symbolize bad management behavior. The war on union protest inflatables, also including the not-quite-as-good Fat Cat, continues.

 

 The new Secretary of State, David Whitley, released a list of registered voters who were to be investigated over whether they are citizens. As it turned out, tens of thousands of people on the list, including the sister of Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay, are naturalized citizens and the state was relying on stale data to suggest they had voted illegally. In a coordinated Friday night assault, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, President Trump and some legislators tried to suggest voter fraud by non-citizens was rampant in Texas. That argument would prove bogus as soon as it was made. In Waco, for example, of 366 voters or registrants flagged by Whitley’s list, all 366 were shown to be citizens.

 

February

 

 The United Labor Legislative Committee opposed the confirmation of David Whitley as Secretary of State amid a voter purge-and-prosecute scandal. Whitley’s appearance before the Senate Nominations Committee went badly for him as he failed to navigate questions on voter suppression and on why the list of potentially ineligible voters and registrants he sent to counties was not vetted first for accuracy. Ultimately, Senate Democrats, unanimously withholding support, refused to confirm him. Within two days of his resulting resignation, Whitley was rehired by Gov. Greg Abbott as an advisor. The state dropped the voter purge program, at least in its current form.

 

 As lawmakers, backed by ULLCO, looked for ways to reduce the likelihood of jail time for minor offenses, the Texas Observer published a first-person account by a woman who inadvertently bounced a $25 check for groceries and, as a result, spent 45 days in confinement. The woman, now an author, was one week from graduation when she was arrested.

 

 A conference of Young Active Labor Leaders drew 200 enthusiastic participants, continuing a historic renewal of the roots of the Texas labor movement. The Texas AFL-CIO constituency group considered nuts-and-bolts tools for building leadership, cutting-edge organizing techniques and big-picture labor issues.

 

 Republican lawmakers filed bills that would override not just earned paid sick leave ordinances but most any effort by cities to improve workplace benefits in the private sector. The bills had the weight and momentum of support by state leaders and business organizations. The Texas AFL-CIO and a coalition of unions and allies joined cities in opposition. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy sounded the alarm when a Senate committee amendment also took away the ability of cities to enact non-discrimination ordinances. Business groups later joined organized labor in denouncing the apparent attack on the LGBTQ community

 

 Amazon pulled its “second headquarters” out of New York City after officials rose up against the company’s plans to fight unionization with all its vast resources. The move made a mockery of a long process in which the company dangled a major expansion in front of cities, with dozens bidding to extreme levels. Northern Virginia, which had joined New York as the “second headquarters,” ended up with the designation by itself. Besides a bounty of tax breaks and other subsidies, Amazon walked off with free proprietary demographic data from dozens of cities.

 

March

 

 Thousands of teachers rallied at the Texas Capitol, adding momentum to a legislative drive to raise their pay. The session ran in marked contrast to states that saw teacher walkouts, with the Senate already on record in support of a $5,000 across the board pay raise. That raise, however, was to apply only to teachers and librarians, not other school employees.

 

 For the first time, the Texas AFL-CIO headquarters hosted a South by Southwest music show. It featured Walker Lukens and Tameca Jones. The performers and their band members are all members of the American Federation of Musicians. 

 

 Busloads of union plumbers arrived at the Capitol to advocate for continuation of the Board of Plumbing Examiners, which regulates plumbing licenses in the state. A sunset bill proposed to end the agency and substitute alternative regulation by a different board. Plumbers argued this would compromise safety in a field where every detail can affect public health.

 

 The Texas Observer reported that a rule that would classify gig economy workers as independent contractors for Unemployment Insurance purposes was the product of a Silicon Valley firm that has lobbied around the nation for the ability of businesses to avoid paying employment benefits.

 

April

 

   The Texas Senate’s Republicans introduced and in a matter of hours approved a resolution supporting President Trump’s declaration of an emergency at the Texas-Mexico border. Democrats objected to the resolution, but also to a process that steamrolled vaunted “senatorial courtesy” in sneaking the document to the starting line.

 

 In an atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation, the Texas House approved a school finance bill that would provide across-the-board pay raises to school employees and around $9 billion more for public schools in Texas. The measure won approval 148-1. 

 

 A House committee considered a bill that would have created a separate unelected court system for deep-pocketed businesses. ULLCO opposed HB 4149 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, saying open courts and equal justice should be available to all Texans, not just those who can afford those basics. The bill died in committee.

 

 The Texas Workforce Commission gave final approval to the rule declaring all gig workers independent contractors for Unemployment Insurance purposes. A coalition opposing the rule vowed to continue the fight.

 

 The United Labor Legislative Committee opposed Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to enact a one percent increase in the sales tax so that property owners could save money on property taxes. The measure would essentially require the poor and working poor to subsidize Texans making more than $150,000 a year. The idea sank like a rock. 

 

 Dow Chemical in Deer Park locked out members of United Steelworkers Local 13-1 after union members overwhelmingly rejected a backward contract offer. The Texas AFL-CIO worked in solidarity with USW during a lockout that lasted April 22 to June 10.

 

May

 

  As with several wage-related bills, a measure that would have declared tips to be the property of the employees who see them in Texas passed the Texas House only to be denied a hearing in the Texas Senate. 

 

 On a 44-99 vote, the Texas House rejected a bill that would have relaxed class-size limits in grades K through 5. The provision is just a slight variant of a piece of House Bill 72 – the 1984 school reform bill. A few weeks later, a driving force behind that bill – billionaire and presidential candidate H. Ross Perot – would pass away.

 

 Plumbers in Texas scored a huge win when the Texas House voted – four times, no less – to preserve the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners for the next two years. The bill that keeps the agency didn’t make the finish line, but Gov. Greg Abbott would decide, rather than call a special session, to use an executive order to keep the agency going. Plumbers and many other union members working in solidarity invaded the Capitol to make their case successfully. 

 

 The Legislature approved a bill to outlaw Project Labor Agreements on public projects before they are even tried in Texas. The measure eliminates a technique that other state and local governments have used to bring projects to completion on time and on budget. 

 

 Lawmakers approved a compromise school finance and property tax package that improves funding of public schools but also limits the future ability of cities and other local governments to raise property taxes. Cities said the tax bill, whose limits take effect in 2020, would prove costly and threaten their ability to pay for basic services.

 

June

  Now it can be told. A seemingly innocuous criminal justice bill aimed at repealing a list of minor business-related crimes might well have become law if an eagle-eyed Texas AFL-CIO director hadn’t caught the inclusion of a repeal of the short-handled hoe law. The law, inspired by United Farm Workers Co-Founder César Chávez, bans the infamous practice of forcing farm workers to engage in stoop labor in the fields. Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara noticed that an omnibus criminal justice bill that passed the House included the measure. Repeals are notoriously difficult to catch. When Lara alerted Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire, D-Houston, Whitmire pulled the bill from a planned hearing and allowed it to die.

 

 The Texas Tribune reported on block-walkers of color who have faced racial harassment as they canvass for candidates or other matters. The article quoted Summer Lollie, who has overseen block walks for the Texas AFL-CIO, and Texas AFL-CIO Campaigns Director Jeff Rotkoff. The harassment reinforced the labor federation’s long-standing practice of sending volunteer walkers out in pairs. And it highlighted the vision and courage of union block-walkers who keep coming back despite occasional incidents in the field.

 

 The U.S. Supreme Court rejected President Trump’s effort to ask a citizenship question on the next Census, prompting the Texas AFL-CIO to wholeheartedly endorse full participation in the population count. The Census determines Texas’s political representation and federal funding, among other important matters.