On Saturday, April 30th, 2016, over 1,000 COPS/Metro leaders from all over the city gathered at Edison High School's auditorium to honor their founding leaders, to celebrate their 40th Anniversary and to keep the pressure on elected officials to pay living wages to public sector workers.
Fr. Brian Christopher of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church brought delegates to their feet with a challenge to keep organizing for higher wages. "I hear a lot of people say that we church folk ought to leave economics aside, that we ought to stay out of politics, that we ought to stick with religion," said Fr. Christopher. "Well guess what? This is religion. If you want people to believe that they are children of God, then give them work that will pay enough to support their families.”
Chris Almendarez, a 19-year-old leader with Sacred Heart Church and a graduate of Brackenridge High School shared with the assembly that his mother works two SAISD jobs—from 6 AM to 4 PM in the school cafeteria, and from 4:30 PM to 10 PM in the school's sports complex. He sees her only fifteen minutes a day between jobs.
"What gets me angry is to think of other children who are growing up without their mom or dad, who don't have support in doing homework, studying, and even making a meal," said Mr. Almendarez, who had to quit college in order to support his family. "SAISD Trustees, are you going to work with us to raise those wages and bring our parents home?"
Flanked by Superintendent Martinez and Trustees Guerrero, Hernandez and Valdez, SAISD Board President Patti Radle responded, "We are grateful to COPS/Metro that because of your involvement, we will be able to raise wages by 20% for our entry level employees this year. But we are not finished traveling together on the living wage. So we will be with you in the future to raise it to $13; we'd like to get it to $15, but we'll need to travel together, we'll need your help on this."
Bexar County Commissioners Paul Elizondo and Tommy Calvert also committed to continue raising wages in the county, agreeing to support raising wages to $14/hour for direct employees as well as raising wages for outsourced workers in this upcoming budget cycle.
Councilmembers Gonzales, Viagran, Trevino and Nirenberg also agreed to raise wages for city employees to $14/hour for the next fiscal year, and to follow the county's lead in establishing a wage floor for outsourced workers.
"Yes to both questions," said Mr. Nirenberg to Ms. Irene Lopez of Our Lady of Guadalupe. "And on the outsourced workers, we should have done that a long time ago."
Councilmembers also agreed to stabilize funding for Project Quest, a long-term workforce training strategy organized by COPS/Metro, by making it a line item in the city budget.
Fr. Michael DeGerolami, Pastor of St. Timothy Church called leaders to action. "If we are truly serious about living wages and combating predatory lending, then we need to train at least 100 leaders to do house meetings and civic academies on this issue. My parish will lead the first session in partnership with Catholic Charities and you are all invited to attend. COPS/Metro, are you ready to get to work?"
“A living wage is not an entitlement,” said Fr. Brian Christopher. “A living wage is a right. For 40 years, COPS/Metro has been doing an excellent job of demanding this justice, but we have got a lot more work to do. So let's keep the pressure on!"
Photo credits: Ronald Cortes (top) Rafael Paz Parra (bottom)
Inspired? Motivated? Want to get involved? Here are our next steps:
- COPS/Metro Leaders' Meeting on Monday, May 9, 2016, 7-8:30 PM at Sacred Heart Church Civic Center (2123 W. Commerce St., SATX 78207)
- Organizing 101 Training Session on Saturday, May 21, 2016, 9 AM to 12 PM at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Parish Hall (1336 San Fernando St., SATX 78207)
- Train-the-Trainer Session on Living Wages and Payday Lending on Thursday, May 26, 2016, 7-8:30 PM at St. Timothy Church Parish Hall (1515 Saltillo St., SATX 78207)
If you did fill out a green "next steps" card at Saturday’s action, let us know you plan to attend any of the meetings listed above by filling out this brief online form.
Leaders of COPS/Metro Alliance will expand their living wages and economic security campaign, while also commemorating 40+ Years of Organizing in San Antonio, with an assembly of 1,000 leaders on Saturday, April 30, 2016, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM, at the Thomas Edison High School Auditorium, 701 Santa Monica Street, San Antonio, TX 78212.Read more
Not even a quarter of the way through 2016, COPS/Metro leaders have been busy making history. After 18 months of hard work, leaders succeeded in raising wages for 5,000 of the lowest paid workers in the city, county and hospitals, who now earn an entry level wage of $13/hour, leading the way in Texas for higher wages.
"For me, it's not politics, it's justice — and asking for a decent wage is not unreasonable," Fr. Walter D'Heedene of Sacred Heart Church told Wade Goodwyn on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Listen to the full story.
Leaders also lobbied city council members to increase funding for workforce development program Project QUEST, increasing city funding for the program from 1.5 million to 2.2 million for 2016, a 47% increase over last year's allocation.
Leaders Kick-Off Living Wage Campaign in SAISD and other School Districts
Just last week, COPS/Metro joined forces with the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel to ask SAISD's school board to raise entry level wages for bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other support personnel to $13/hour. Prior to the board meeting, COPS/Metro and San Antonio Alliance leaders met with all 7 trustees and the superintendent to figure out a way forward.
Vanita Rodriguez, a cafeteria manager testified that all the workers in her cafeteria have to work two jobs "just to survive."
“We are together on this,” responded Patti Radle, board president. “This board is anxious to pay decent wages to its employees.”
If the effort succeeds, over 2,000 SAISD employees will be impacted by the raise. COPS/Metro leaders are also working to identify workers from other school districts in their congregations in order to expand the campaign to reach more people.
SAISD to Consider Raising Minimum Wages for District Employees, The Rivard Report
SAISD Employees Demonstrate, Speak out for Wage Increases (Video), KENS 5
SAISD Support Staff Wants 13/Hour Living Wage (VIDEO), KSAT
School District Workers Begin Living Wage Campaign, San Antonio Express News
Southside Residents Seek Solutions for Impassable Roads
In January, COPS/Metro united with residents of the Highland Oaks neighborhood on the far south side, asking county commissioners to take responsibility for impassable roads. Commissioner Elizondo responded that a county-wide approach must be taken to address the concerns raised in the Highland Oaks subdivision and beyond, where residents raised concern that school buses, EMS, fire, law enforcement and delivery vehicles have trouble accessing their homes due to rough, sandy roadways. Highland Oaks residents have scheduled further conversations with commissioner's court for early March.
Bexar County Community Fights to Pave its Streets of Sand, San Antonio Current
Solutions Sought for Bexar Road Woes, San Antonio Express News
South Bexar County Residents Call for Road Improvements, The Rivard Report
Training the Next Generation of Leaders
COPS/Metro will celebrate 40+ Years of Organizing on Saturday, April 30, 2016. Our leaders value training just as much as action, and are investing their time, talent and energy into their own development as well as training the next generation of leaders. In January, thirty-five new leaders from COPS/Metro and from sister organizations in the Valley and Houston participated in a 3 Day, Spanish-language training to learn the habits and practices of organizing.
Additionally, every Thursday in February, COPS/Metro leaders and allies have been learning the "History of Low Wages in San Antonio" and how past generations of leaders have fought to raise wages and invest in job training.
"The stories I have shared with you are just an atom in the universe of the experiences I have with COPS/Metro," First President of COPS, Mr. Andres Sarabia told the class. "I can close my eyes and imagine myself sitting in a classroom 40 years ago, listening to training just like this, just as you are today."
Missed the class? See video clips of Andres Sarabia and Project Quest's Executive Director Sr. Pearl Ceasar share the early history of COPS and Metro Alliance.
Do you value the work of COPS/Metro? Leaders are committing to a hard money campaign to raise multiples of $40 from as many people as possible. Make an investment to support the training of future leaders and organizers.
On Thursday September 10th, at the urging of COPS / Metro Alliance, San Antonio city council members unanimously voted for a living wage increase from $11.47 to $13.00 per hour, benefiting 1,300 of their lowest paid workers. By doing so, the municipality joined Bexar County in their living wage increase. Just ten days prior, Bexar county commissioners voted to increase their lowest wage to $13 / hour.
Not resting on their laurels, two weeks ago COPS/Metro leaders won a 47% increase in city funding for Project QUEST, a nationally recognized workforce training program started by the organization 23 years ago.
While this concludes an exciting year of action — which also resulted in raised wages for workers at Alamo Colleges —COPS / Metro leaders are not planning to rest long. Our long-term wage strategy includes a push to increase municipal wages to $14 / hour in fiscal year 2017 and $15 / hour the year after. On Monday, November 8, 2015, we'll kick-start our campaign to raise wages in public schools and hospital districts.Read more
COPS/Metro Alliance and sister organizations are at the forefront of fights for living wages in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and Dallas.
After increasing the wages of the lowest paid workers for Alamo Colleges, COPS / Metro quickly turned its focus to wage increases for the lowest paid workers of Bexar County and the City of San Antonio. Both entities are expected to vote in support of increasing the wages of their lowest paid workers to $13 / hour in early September.
“It was because of our concerted effort, said Mr. Robert Cruz of St. Leo the Great. "We’ve communicated with all the council members, and I think Mayor Taylor saw that the budget would sustain the rate increase. Everything came together. We’ve been very methodical, we’ve been very patient and we’ve been very persistent.”
“The public sector should lead the way,” said Esmeralda Rodriguez of St. Timothy Catholic Church at a recent press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Where we spend our money says a lot about our values, so the City budget is a moral document.” Council members Ray Lopez (D6), Shirley Gonzales (D5), Cris Medina (D7), and Alan Warrick II (D2), joined COPS/Metro leaders to support phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage within the next few years.
Leaders also expect that Bexar County Commissioners will vote to establish a wage floor of $9.50 / hour for contracted workers, boosting their bottom wage by $2.25 / hour. “I have stopped numerous people who work for a contractor in our building doing maintenance work, and cleaning, and I can tell you that several of them are making $7.50 an hour,” Judge Wolff said. “We will tell our contractors that their game is going to change.”
San Antonio Poised to Increase Wages for Some Workers, San Antonio Express-News
Texas Cities Leading the Way on Living Wages, Texas Observer
Luckless at Capitol, Wage Advocates go Local, Texas Tribune
Check out recent coverage of COPS/Metro’s efforts in working with the City Manager and Council in raising the bottom wages of City of San Antonio workers:
At its first convention in 1974, Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) passed a resolution to open a community college on San Antonio's West Side or South Side. COPS leaders worked tirelessly with elected officials and other community members to establish Palo Alto College on San Antonio's South Side. Palo Alto celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2015.Read more
COPS/Metro leaders have asked candidates for mayor to stand with us on our agenda to increase the living wage for public sector workers, invest in Project Quest and other workforce development strategies, and fund housing rehabilitation, especially for seniors.
Want to know where they stand? Here is an article about our recent assembly from Channel 4 News.
Leaders of COPS/Metro, a broad-based organization of churches, schools, and unions, will hold an Accountability Assembly with Candidates for Mayor and City Council, Sunday, April 19, at 3:30 PM in St. Henry’s Parish (1619 S. Flores St) to advance a Living Wage strategy for the lowest paid City of San Antonio workers and for outsourced & subcontract service jobs. Over 300 delegates are expected to attend the session, the top 4 candidates for Mayor, and City Council candidates from Districts 2, 3, 5, and 7.
"This is an exciting turning point in what has already proven to be a successful campaign,” remarked Esmeralda Rodriguez of St. Timothy Parish and co-chair for the assembly. “Since we began organizing around this issue last June, we’ve gained the support of 4 of the 5 Bexar County Commissioners to raise wages for the lowest paid county employees to $14.91 over three years, starting with $13 next year. And the Alamo Colleges have already raised wages for their lowest paid employees as a direct result of our actions. Now, we’re turning our attention to the City.”Read more
In late December 2014, the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board outlined several issues for the state and local government to tackle in 2015. They noted: "C.O.P.S./Metro Alliance has been waging a living-wage campaign in San Antonio, prevailing on city and county government leaders to pay their lowest-paid employees and contractors a decent wage, That means beyond minimum wage. The group got a good reception when making its pitch to Bexar County commissioners recently."
On January 18, 2015, the San Antonio Express-News published "Tax dollars should support living wages," credited to COPS/Metro leaders Fr. Steven Gamez and Sr. Consuelo Tovar. They made the case for #LivingWages and quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last speech: "It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages."