AFT affiliates give Houston educators what they need: A voice

Houston educators voted overwhelmingly to make the Houston Federation of Teachers and the Houston Educational Support Personnel their exclusive representatives in formal consultation with school administrators on workplace policies and other matters.

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More than 93 percent of teachers and in-school support staff in the Houston Independent School District voted for the HFT, and just over 80 percent of support personnel (bus drivers and attendants, custodians and food-service staff) supported HESP. The two unions are AFT affiliates.

“As our educators and school staff navigate this tumultuous moment in public education, one thing is clear,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten when the election results were announced Dec. 2. “They need a voice. Collaboration and consultation are critical to help our schools get students and staff the support they need.”

In Texas, a nonbargaining state, consultation is the process that includes monthly meetings with school district administrators—a forum that gives teachers and school support personnel a voice in decisions on workplace safety, reopening schools safely, class sizes, compensation, and classroom practices and learning conditions.

“Teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff know that when they give input about new district policies, it improves student learning and helps retain HISD’s amazing teachers and staff,” says HFT President Zeph Capo. That has been particularly important this year as Houston schools have coped with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted normal public education across the nation.

“Through the consultation process,” says Capo, who is also president of Texas AFT and a vice president of the national AFT, “we’ve worked with [school officials] to improve workplace safety during the pandemic and support Houston students during this difficult time.” He calls the election result a win for all HISD students and employees who are putting their health at risk to keep public schools functioning in Houston.

Wretha Thomas, HESP president, says the election marks a milestone in the fight for respect for HISD support personnel.

“We have fought for 25 years for decent pay, good health insurance and better working conditions,” Thomas says. “Today blue-collar workers and HESP members stand in unity with a strong voice in HISD and in Texas. We are proud to announce that all HESP blue-collar workers will have a voice at HISD consultation. No more injustice.”

Elected consultation allows an employee organization to build strong relationships on behalf of students with school officials and board members, Texas AFT notes. Elected consultation allows employees to choose one organization to speak for them regarding policy proposals. This approach provides accountability and a clear voice, and increases collaboration.

The election to select an exclusive representative for the consultation process took place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 16. The secret ballot vote was conducted by a neutral third-party organization. Those eligible to vote included all nonadministrative HISD employees—regardless of their membership in a union or other employee organization.

“This vote is a huge victory for the educators and school staff in Houston, and the entire public school community as well,” Weingarten says. “We are the people on the frontlines—in the classrooms and cafeterias, on the buses, and throughout our school buildings—and our voices are going to help ensure that students are taken care of socially, emotionally and academically.”

[Tom Lansworth]