FORT HOOD, Texas - A classroom inside the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center here filled with employees, along with management and local union representatives, Jan. 18, for the first step in potentially raising wages for federal wage-grade employees at Fort Hood and throughout Central Texas.
“The information we are collecting today, we are going to review it and send our recommendations to the Department of Defense,” Sarah Mitchell, Local Wage Survey Committee chairperson, said as she opened the hearing. “The actual survey will take place May 8-19.”
Mitchell added that Fort Hood should see results from the DoD survey about a month after the survey team completes its visit in May, and changes to wages will go into effect July 16. She said full-scale wage surveys are generally conducted every two years, however, the last one completed in Central Texas was more than three years ago in 2019.
At the hearing, groups were able to provide information and recommendations detailing which wage grade positions should be surveyed, as well as which area companies should be surveyed to address the competitive wage scale.
The largest group represented at the hearing came from Fort Hood’s Directorate of Public Works. Adam Alexander of DPW’s Operations and Maintenance Division spoke on behalf of the group as they presented their findings to Mitchell and her four-person committee.
“In 2022, we lost nine percent (of our employees to better paying jobs in the area),” he noted. “That’s (a) glide path to failure.”
One of the biggest points of contention for those in attendance was where the survey in May will take place. Currently, three counties set to be surveyed are: Bell, Coryell and McLennan counties. Notably absent, though, is the greater Austin area of Williamson and Travis counties.
In his remarks to attendees, U.S. Army Garrison - Fort Hood Commander Col. Chad R. Foster said he hopes to be able to address this oversight.
“I bring this up constantly,” he said. “When we lose people and they leave here to go work somewhere else, they don’t go to Waco. They don’t go to College Station. They go to Austin.”
Foster said the economic dynamics in the region have changed dramatically in just a few short years.
“One of the reasons why the housing market went crazy around here, along with everything else, is that all the folks who work in Austin now have been pushed up into this area and they live here now,” the commander explained. “The biggest thing is we have been losing folks for years to Austin and not to Waco.”
It wasn’t just Fort Hood employees in attendance at the meeting. Master Sgt. Reynaldo Reyes is in uniform when he drills as a member of the Texas Army National Guard, but during the week he is a wage-scale employee, serving as an allied trades supervisor at a National Guard facility in Gatesville, Texas, located north of Fort Hood. He said his organization, too, continues to lose wage-grade employees to other businesses.
“I’ve brought in a list of civilian contractors and hopefully, they will survey them,” he said.
The perceived on-going wage disparity also brought in Tim Pittman, the boiler plant supervisor for the Central Texas Veterans Administration Health Care System. He said that between his two boiler plants in Waco and Temple, Texas, he’s operating at 60% of his authorized employees.
“Speaking as a boiler operator, it’s really hard to get quality personnel,” he said, “with the wages they are paying right now.”
The garrison commander said he sees a “collective perspective” as employees, management and union representatives all have the same goal in mind.
“We want the best people to support the best Army,” Foster added.
Sitting next to the garrison commander at the hearing was Pierangeli Torres, union president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1920. She said her organization plans to push for realignment of Fort Hood’s wage survey area, as well.
“My main concern is the surveying area,” she said, “for it to be accurate and change from Waco to Austin. We’re pushing for that not only in this forum, pushing it to them to realize that, but also to the Senate and the House of Representatives. That’s what we have to do.”