Texas may have a reputation for being less than welcoming to the labor movement, but top Houston officials point to their labor partnerships and vibrant maritime industry as the engines that drive their city’s massive economic success.
Addressing the 2014 winter executive board meeting of the SIU-affiliated Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO at Houston’s Hilton-Americas Hotel on Feb. 13, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Houston Port Commission Chair Janiece Longoria said the city simply couldn’t thrive without its partners in labor and maritime.
Parker, who has served 17 years in Houston elected office, said she has worked tirelessly to fight for labor.
“I’ve been proud to have labor support and proud to stand up for labor after the elections,” she said. “I hear all the time about how you can’t do that (support labor) in Texas. I’m here to prove people wrong.... I’m here because it’s important for Houston to send the message that we are a labor-friendly city.”
Houston’s partnership with labor has proven especially fruitful with the city’s largest economic driver: the Port of Houston. Established in 1900, the Port of Houston has grown considerably over the years and has played an instrumental role in establishing Houston as one of the biggest cities in the United States.
“Without the Port of Houston, the city of Houston would not now be the fourth-largest city in the nation,” Longoria said. “And we would not enjoy everything we have in our economy here today.”
Acknowledging that union workers are the driving force in the Port of Houston’s growth and success, the city recently appointed two representatives from the labor movement to serve on the Houston Port Commission for the first time in the its 100-year history. One of those appointees was SIU Gulf Coast Vice President Dean Corgey.
Parker said she has made promoting opportunities for labor and its representatives a top priority during her time in office. Wherever she has the chance, Parker said she has fought to ensure labor is represented and has a powerful voice.
“I made a commitment every time I have run that I would try to make sure labor was represented on all city boards and commissions,” Parker said. “I have looked to labor and we will continue to work together to make sure that our kids have opportunities to create careers with good jobs and good wages and good benefits that can sustain their families. I am committed to that and I know my brothers and sisters in labor who are here today are committed to that as well.”
Parker added that’s been especially true when it came to the city’s port commission.
“I made the commitment when I ran for mayor that I would absolutely work to make sure labor was represented on our port commission for the first time in the 100-year history of the Port of Houston,” she said. “I’m so proud.... Seafarers are at the table when decisions are being made at the Port of Houston. We have a great future together.”
Longoria, meanwhile, said she couldn’t agree more.
“The mayor is correct in saying it’s important to have labor at the table for the Port of Houston. Frankly, nothing gets done at the Port of Houston without the efforts of the men and women that labor on the docks, the seafaring vessels, the maritime trades,” she said. “We are creating jobs at a pace of almost two to three times that of the national average. Of course, an important partner to the Port of Houston’s success and in our continued growth is the positive relationship we have with labor.”
She further described that relationship as a win-win for everyone involved.
“Commissioner Corgey ... will verify that our labor relations, we believe, are the best in the nation,” Longoria said. “Because we know that without a skilled labor force and without well-compensated labor, compensated labor that is able to take care of their families ... we wouldn’t be the great port that we are today.”
The port’s success has also been touted by some high-profile national figures. Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited the port in November and vowed to be major advocates for the port and maritime industry.
“They were very impressed,” Longoria said. “Joe Biden confirmed that he believed the federal investment in port infrastructure was one of the best things the federal government could do because it’s a no-brainer in terms of investment.”
Houston has also found that its investments in the port and relationships with labor and maritime have been no-brainers as well. The successes of those investments and relationships have already resulted in serious economic benefits and there are no signs of it slowing down.
“For generations, families of this region have depended on the Port of Houston for good jobs,” Longoria said. “It is our responsibility to continue fueling this economic engine. So thank you for your partnership.”