Panel not spontaneous

Statements from the Houston Independent School District administration that Cathy Mincberg and other HISD administrators "strayed from the script" when the Texas House Public Education Committee members "unexpectedly asked them to speak on a panel regarding teacher contracts" were a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

I watched the video of the entire committee meeting. It was evident that HISD administrators went to Austin fully prepared to lobby to remove all teacher hearing rights and eliminate teacher contracts. Their testimony was invited by the committee, and notice is always provided of the topic to be discussed.

Dr. Mincberg and Hilda Poindexter arrived fully armed with visuals including charts and employee files to bolster their argument. It was hardly a spontaneous performance by administrators caught off guard by unanticipated questioning.

Mincberg and Poindexter willingly participated in a session of "teacher bashing" that had no correlation to the legislative program adopted by the HISD trustees. They presented their personal views as those of the district, and they got caught.

At their legislative workshop, the HISD trustees made clear that they support fair procedures and teacher contracts. Hopefully, the "staff" will follow their bosses lead.

Gayle Fallon, president,

Houston Federation of

Teachers, Houston
  March 5, 2003, 11:49PM

Teachers' win may be short-lived

House tries again to close loophole


Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A victory handed to Texas teachers Wednesday could be plucked from their grasp as early as today, as the House tries once again to close a so-called loophole that allows education workers to collect state retirement benefits as well as Social Security.

A bill to change the law was brought to the floor under special rules that required a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was 249-180 -- which was 35 votes short of what was needed -- giving Texas teachers a temporary victory.

But Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, believes the law that some say gives teachers an ability to capture more benefits than other Texas professionals should be fixed.

"I would love to tell my teachers what they want to hear," Brady said Wednesday after voting to close the so-called loophole. "But we have to be fair to everyone who pays into Social Security."

Teachers working in most of the state's 1,100 school districts are unable to receive most Social Security benefits because they do not pay into the federal pension plan. But many of those teachers have worked other jobs that did pay Social Security, or their spouses are eligible for Social Security pension benefits.

Union officials said the law that would prevent state education employees from having access to those funds is unjust and the so-called loophole, discovered just a few years ago, has rightly given teachers a way around a wrong-headed law.

According to a congressional study of the issue, nearly 5,000 teachers and other school employees in Texas have transferred to one of Texas' 21 school districts that do pay Social Security. Even one day of work for one of those districts makes education employees Social Security eligible upon retirement.

"It's not really a loophole," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "A loophole implies you're doing something dishonest."

Instead, she said teachers have had to navigate the decades-old law that has allowed states like Texas to avoid paying matching Social Security taxes on education employees, while limiting those employees access to even the Social Security benefits they would otherwise be getting.

"Teachers are being penalized because the state is too cheap to pay Social Security," Fallon said.

The bill that came before the House on Wednesday addressed many other issues, and its supporters intend to bring it back to the floor, perhaps even today.

Brady, who reluctantly supports the measure, said he will use his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to seek a broader bill that fixes many problems in the way Social Security laws are applied.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, voted to close the so-called loophole.

Area lawmakers who voted against were: Houston Democrats Chris Bell, Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee; Houston Republican John Culberson; Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont; and Jim Turner, D-Crockett.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  March 6, 2003, 11:48PM

Workers who want a union say Wal-Mart is being unfair

Associated Press

A federal panel is scheduled to review a complaint against an East Texas Wal-Mart store alleging unfair labor practices in its treatment of employees trying to unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a hearing for April 3 to consider a complaint stemming from an investigation of charges made by United Food and Commercial Workers International.

The complaint, filed by the panel's regional director, Curtis Wells, charges that the Wal-Mart store interrogated unionizing employees and threatened them with loss of benefits. Other charges include surveillance of employee and union activities, stricter enforcement of work rules and changing dock associates' lunch and break periods.

"It's been hell ever since," said Eric Jackson, a customer service manager who said he was fired after nearly three years with Wal-Mart. "I had `exceeds expectations' on my reviews. ... Once I signed a union card, I became the worst employee."

Wal-Mart denies the charges leveled by current and former employees, spokeswoman Cynthia Illick said in The Paris News.

The company's Web site defines its stance: "Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communications, we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation."

Stan Fortune, with the strategic programs department of United Food and Commercial Workers International, said the Paris workers are pushing for a union because they believe it would improve wages, benefits and other issues.

Jackson said that after efforts began to join the union, he was cited for talking on the job and being absent or tardy too many days.

Worker Jennifer McLaughlin said employees have been told not to talk about the union except on breaks and in the break room.

She said she expects retribution for unionizing.

"My days are numbered," McLaughlin said.