2021 Legislative Session Report

With Texas’ biannual legislative session concluding , we look back on a session of tremendous activism from AFSCME Texas Corrections members, a disappointing loss on our fight for ERS funding without strings attached and some key victories in our continuing campaigns for safer facilities and fair pay. 

This session, AFSCME Texas Corrections members made over 4,800 contacts to the state legislature. We made our voices heard with our elected officials and key policy makers and we shaped the legislation that affects us every day.

On our top priority this session—securing long-term funding to bring ERS to sound financial footing without restructuring the plan—we were able to secure $500 million per year that will bring the plan to actuarial soundness and ensure its future health for enrollees. Unfortunately, our efforts to ensure that funding came without strings attached weren’t successful. 

Senate Bill 321, the bill that provides this funding, also directs ERS to establish a fourth-tier cash balance plan for future TDCJ employees. This cash balance plan for new hires is riskier for incoming employees, provides a less secure retirement, will make it harder to recruit and retain staff for an already strained TDCJ and could lead to an underfunding of annuities for long-term employees. It’s a disappointing result, but I’m proud of the thousands of letters and phone calls our members made and the dedication you all have shown. 

An area where we were able to make significant progress this session was in our ongoing efforts to secure badly needed funding for facilities repair and maintenance at TDCJ facilities. Our members knew that TDCJ facilities are crumbling and thanks to their activism, we were able to secure over $100 million in dedicated funding to TDCJ for facilities repair and maintenance. This will continue to be a priority in upcoming sessions as our facilities need far more than what one budget cycle can provide. 

Another priority this session was to win an across-the-board pay raise for TDCJ staff. No matter the job title, TDCJ employees are dedicated professionals working to keep our state safe, and all of us need and deserve a raise. Unfortunately, we were unable to achieve the goal of an across-the-board raise this session. The state budget does provide for a raise for maximum security units, and we applaud that, but all TDCJ workers need a raise. Winning a raise for all TDCJ workers will be a top priority next session. 

Last but not least, with your help our union was able to come out on top in our fight to ensure cases of COVID-19 are presumptively assumed to be contracted at work. This is an important step that opens the worker’s compensation and disability systems if one of us contracts COVID-19 and is unable to work. Most importantly, this new policy applies to past cases of COVID-19. So, if you contracted COVID-19 and are continuing to suffer consequences, your COVID-19 will be presumed to be contracted at work when you utilize those resources.

This session was a mixed bag for TDCJ employees. I truly believe that every success we’ve had has been driven by all our members and your activism, and that our setbacks would have been worse if we’d been silent. As we look toward next session, I am eager to build on our activism together and win together.