HHSC Commissioner strips workers of rights, protections

TSEU members launch campaign to restore grievance procedure

In May, the Health and Human Services Commission announced eliminating access to the employee grievance procedure for all state workers in HHSC, DADS, DSHS, and DFPS, except those who work at a state hospital or state supported living center. This change reverses the long-established right of state employees to challenge unjust terminations and demotions. Without a grievance procedure, thousands of state workers are vulnerable to being unfairly fired or disciplined with no way to dispute. For all state employees in an HHSC agency (including state hospitals and SSLC’s) whose position is ranked at B21 or higher, the new policy makes them entirely “at-will.”

While the policy change claims that employees ranked below the B21 classification won’t be technically “at-will,” stripping away access to the grievance procedure effectively makes them at-will because there will be nothing to stop the agency from firing someone for unjust or fabricated reasons.

What does at-will mean?

At-will means that an employee can be fired for any legal reason, or no reason at all. With at-will, an employee can be simply told “you’re fired,” without any justification or warning. This opens the door to a whole range of illegal or unethical reasons for termination- as long as the employer doesn’t say they are firing you for an illegal reason, they will be allowed to do so.

Why is a grievance procedure important?

A grievance procedure provides a fair and transparent way to resolve disputes between employees and their employer. With it, the burden is on the employer to prove why an employee should be disciplined or terminated. If an employee speaks up about illegal or unethical behavior on the part of management, they can be reasonably assured that they will be protected against retaliation. Without it, the door is open for abusive forms of supervision, for retaliation, for arbitrary terminations, and for discrimination. Without a grievance procedure, the employee has no opportunity to challenge whatever justification their employer has given for firing them.

State employees are frequently blamed for failing to keep up with unreasonable workloads and expectations. Without a grievance procedure, employees will be scapegoated and fired even more often for problems beyond our control- such as short-staffing.

Why this will hurt state services, state workers, the public

State employee whistleblowers call attention to major abuses of power or actions that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Without a grievance procedure, whistleblowers will be vulnerable to retaliation from higher-ups who want to punish them for speaking out.

Additionally, taxpayers will see big increases in legal costs in state agencies. Without a grievance procedure to settle employment disputes, terminated employees will have no other option but to sue the state when they feel they have been treated unfairly.

What can we do about it?

We can Organize! Only a strong union can stand up for our rights on the job. We need to sign up our coworkers and get them involved in the fight to reverse this move. [download a membership form today to sign up a co-worker]
We can push lawmakers to take action. By getting state representatives and state senators to intervene, we can eventually defeat this move. In May TSEU members launched a hand-written letter campaign, explaining to legislators why this is a terrible idea and asked them to contact Commissioner Smith, but we need to continue the pressure. Find who represents you and their contact information at: www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us.