On Monday August 20, workers voiced concerns over the recently proposed HISD Bond, which if approved by voters, would mean almost $2 billion for the new construction and renovation of various HISD schools.
A coalition of community organizations convened by Good Jobs = Great Houston hosted the forum at fourth ward’s SHAPE community center. The packed house included various community members, parents and their kids, labor representatives, and local activists, who gathered to hear the panel and share their views and concerns about the bond.
Among the diverse panel, Juliet Stipeche, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, and Lawrence Marshall stood out as the only three trustees out of the 9 member board to show up to the forum to respond to their constituents. The rest of the board (including Superintendent Terry Grier) was notably missing, but not forgotten, thanks to the forum organizers who included their picture cut-outs flaunting their lack of response to the community.
As many community members, organizations, and elected officials have criticized the bond for what they call a lack of transparency, exclusions of certain communities and schools, and last minute changes without community input, Houston workers are adding their voice to the debate and hope to hear answers about the district’s plans to ensure just working conditions and ethical contracting practices.
At the beginning of 2012, the Worker Center – along with partner organizations – uncovered various cases of wage theft in the remodeling of various HISD schools and brought them to the attention of the Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, these cases are still unresolved. If approved, this new bond will bring new school construction and renovation projects, as well as create many new jobs. Houston area workers, having seen the lack of accountability and transparency in HISD contracting and ethics policies, are rightfully concerned that the new bond will repeat this story.
“The HISD bond, which will be voted on in November, will have a tremendous impact in our communities. As a mother who has kids in HISD, and as a worker and member of the Worker Center, I am concerned about that this money is used fairly and to meet the needs and benefit the community,” said Consuelo Martinez, one of the workers who spoke at the forum.
Some of the measures proposed by the workers include:
- Ensuring that all workers on these new HISD projects receive their just wages.
- Prioritizing safe and healthy working conditions for all workers on HISD projects/
- Ensuring that all workers have Access to information about their rights and responsibilities on the job.
- Developing contract provisions that spur contractors to hire from local communities.
- Improving HISD’s contractor and ethics policies to ensure companies that receive these contracts are worthy of taxpayer’s money and trust.
Without many of these measures, unscrupulous companies are able to create unsafe environments in our schools, break the law, and avoid paying their workers, all while profiting off taxpayer money.
Alejandro Zuniga, who suffered a serious accident while working as a janitor at a school, also shared his story and his concerns about adequate provisions needed in the bond. “I don’t want what happened to me, or to our other workers, to happen again in HISD schools. Good, safe jobs benefit all our communities, and I want to make sure that these are the kinds of jobs that are created if this new bond is approved.”