HOPE for Houston

HOUSTON —When the City Council last week approved a three-year contract with the Houston Organization of Public Employees by a 13 to 2 vote, Houston became the first city in Texas to okay a labor agreement with city workers other than firefighters or police officers.

The workers had voted overwhelmingly — 3,237 to 7 — to ratify the three-year pact which covers more than 13,000 city employees. The tally was monitored by prominent community leaders, including the Rev. James Nash of Sunnyside Presbyterian Church and Laura Boston of the Houston Interfaith Workers’ Center.

Patricia Mathis, a HOPE bargaining team member and management analyst with the Houston Police Department, said in a statement, “The contract will enhance quality public services for the city and ensure a living wage for every city worker.”

Under the contract, the lowest-paid city workers will receive a 45 percent raise. An immediate across-the-board 3 percent pay increase will be followed by increases in 2010 and 2011. A minimum wage of $9.50 an hour is to take effect immediately, rising to $10 by September.

The new contract will have a positive effect on Houston’s struggling neighborhoods, where many city workers live. HOPE estimates that the wage increases in the contract will generate an additional $120 million in economic activity in low income neighborhoods like the Third Ward and East End over the next three years.

The Houston Chronicle quoted Mayor Bill White’s spokesman, Frank Michel, as saying, “We think it’s good for both the employees and taxpayer. It’s the right thing to do.”