Corrections employees and plumbers from Beaumont and the surrounding area traveled to Austin on Tuesday, March 12th to visit with their elected officials and testify before committees in the State Capitol in order to advocate for policies that promote local, skilled workers.
In particular, public employees at correctional facilities in Southeast Texas discussed how many of them are resorting to working a second job to pay their bills -- despite already working grueling hours in tough conditions. Meanwhile, licensed plumbers in Beaumont expressed deep concerns about disbanding the independent Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners and moving it to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
The group of four AFSCME Texas Corrections employees who visited with lawmakers included Stanley Brown, a correctional officer at the L.V. Hightower Unit in Dayton, along with Irma Levine, a Substance Abuse Counselor at the Larry Gist Unit in Beaumont. They were visiting the State Capitol to push for policies that would restructure the current career ladder to reward employees for experience and increase pay, including for non-security personnel like substance abuse counselors.
Brown said, “Working day in and day out for the pay is long hours and sometimes you don’t feel rewarded. The average corrections officer has to work a second job. I’ve been working a second job almost my whole career. It’s the difference between having money to pay that light bill and not pay that light bill.”
“While the taxpayers expect us to provide rehabilitation to inmates, a pay raise would mean not having to work a second job on weekends,” said Levine. “It would help with gas for getting to and from work and groceries.”
The group also included Carolyn Chambers, a correctional officer from Port Arthur, and Cedric Wilson, a correctional officer at the Mark. W. Stiles Unit in Jefferson County. The corrections employees also supported the need to fund the pension system, fund facilities repair and technology upgrades, focus on public units over private prisons, and promote safe staffing. They met with State Representative Joe Deshotel, State Representative James White, State Representative Ernest Bailes, the office of State Representative Dade Phelan, and the office of Senator Brandon Creighton.
At the same time, a separate group with dozens of plumbers filed into the State Capitol to oppose House Bill 1670 and Senate Bill 621. Both bills would disband the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners and move it to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. That move threatens their long-standing work to preserve specialized safety systems that licensed plumbers protect, like medical gas lines in hospitals, clean rooms in computer technology facilities, and drinking water in schools.
That group included numerous licensed plumbers from Beaumont, such as Jeremy Pavlich, with Plumbers Local Union 68, who testified before the the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures to oppose House Bill 1670.
“Each one of the training steps I took with the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners taught me valuable things in my career that I don’t think I could have gotten any other way,” said Pavlich. “Every time the public thinks of us plumbers, they associate it with a clogged toilet. Most people don’t understand that licensed plumbers in the state of Texas handle natural gas lines, propane lines, medical gas systems in hospitals, and potable water systems. We could spend all day talking about plumbing systems and probably still leave a few out. It’s a very vast industry that needs to be protected.”
Justin Cooper, an electrician from Beaumont with IBEW Local 479, added: “My concern with this bill is public health and safety. I’m an electrician by trade, but I do trust my plumber friends in the construction industry and their concerns hold value to me. When an unskilled electrician or plumber starts performing work on projects that require a fully trained and qualified individual; that's when people get hurt, jobs cost a lot more money than what they’re supposed to, and it’s just a real bad deal all the way around. The citizens of Texas deserve better.”