AUSTIN – Correctional Officers from Lubbock's Montford Unit visited their elected officials in the State Capitol on Tuesday, April 9th to personally lobby for legislation that would directly improve their pay and pensions.
In particular, many correctional employees in Texas work long hours in very tough conditions, but still have trouble earning enough to support their families. As a result, there is also persistent understaffing and high turnover in Texas correctional facilities.
That's why the AFSCME correctional employees backed recent proposals in the House Budget (House Bill 1) and the supplemental budget that restructure the existing career ladder to raise wages. The House Budget would also secure the resources necessary for pensions so it’s easier for correctional employees to retire with dignity. Specifically, it gets the pension system back on track without cutting benefits for employees. It is also fiscally responsible because it addresses the problem now - instead of ignoring the issue and allowing it to grow more expansive.
Both of these updates in the House Budget will make it easier to recruit skilled workers and fill vacancies.
As an example, Martin Barrera, President of AFSCME Local 2974, has spent his life serving the public, but still has a second job as a police officer to help support his family. He is currently a Correctional Officer V at the Montford Unit in Lubbock. Before spending two decades as a correctional employee, he also served in the United States Marine Corps for eight years.
“I’m here to serve. I serve my community. I serve my state. When I was in the military, I served my country,” added Barrera. “I have a second job and there are several of us and at other units who have two and three jobs that we need to have to sustain our families.”
“We’re here to speak up for the people who don’t have a voice. By coming to Austin, I enjoy working on behalf of my coworkers that couldn’t come. I come and bring their voice to the State Capitol and let the legislature know this is what my coworkers and I are going through back at our units. What the military taught me was discipline. I brought that with me to TDCJ. How to treat everyone fair, equally, and consistent. With coworkers, we work as one team. We have each others backs. We take care of one another,” continued Barrera.
Destiny Arrambide, a Correctional Officer III who works at the Montford Unit, also described how a pay increase would help her family.
“It would help with bills and finances. I have a family of my own. But it would definitely help take care of me and my children as an independent mother,” said Arrambine.
Lance Heniger, a Correctional Officer V who has worked at Montford Unit for ten years stressed the importance of protecting pensions for correctional employees.
“My first eligibility is six years from now. I think about retirement a lot. I’m always running numbers in my mind. A good pension is very important to me.”
He added that it’s especially important to provide good wages and benefits to correctional employees because it’s a tough job and already difficult to recruit staff.
“I don’t believe this job is for everybody. It is a dangerous environment. But it’s keeping the community safe. It’s a service to everybody around you. A pay raise would lure more people in. If the pay ladder is attractive enough, it would lure people into the state and they can make a career out of it.”
The AFSCME correctional employees met with the offices of State Senator Charles Perry, along with State Representatives Dustin Burrows, John Frullo, and Ken King, among others.
On Tuesday, the State Senate voted to pass their version of a state budget. However, it excluded the pension funding that was in House Bill 1, and only included about half of the funding the House approved to give a pay raise to correctional employees.