Featured: Rep. Lloyd Criss, D-Galveston, a longtime and former state lawmaker who helped champion the Labor movement, including helping secure rights for farmworkers, addresses a joint session of the Texas Legislature in this image taken in the mid-1980s on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. Also in this photograph, seated from left, are Texas Speaker of the House Gib Lewis, D-Ft. Worth; U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright, D-Ft. Worth; Gov. Bill Clements; and Rita Clements, who served as a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents. Criss passed away on Sunday, May 10, 2020.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Former Rep. Lloyd Criss, D-Galveston, who helped Valley lawmakers abolish “slavery” of farm workers during 1980s, passes away at age 79
Former District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston, who is the Democratic Party nominee in the November 2020 election for Texas Senate, District 11, for decades has been inspired at what her father – longtime and former Rep. Lloyd W. Criss, Jr., D-Galveston – helped accomplish with a series of major state laws he helped pass in the 1980s that she says “freed farm workers in Texas from slavery.”
Lloyd Criss, Jr., who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Labor and Employment Relations, worked closely in the House of Representatives with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, especially Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, then a state representative, and Rep. Alex Moreno, Jr., D-Edinburg, to pass historic legislation to protect tens of thousands of Texas farm workers from economic exploitation, health hazards, stoop labor, and even poisoning.
The longtime and former state representative from East Texas passed away following a brief illness on Sunday, May 10, 2020 in Texas City.
“It is hard to believe, but it is true – farm workers, mostly Mexican Americans, were denied the basic protections that everyone else had back then because they had no political power, no one to fight for them,” said Susan Criss, a former longtime district judge of the 212th District Court in Galveston County.
Her comments about her father came in October 2007, when she was seeking the Texas Democratic Party nomination for Texas Supreme Court.
“It is astonishing to realize that for all practical purposes, slavery still existed in Texas as late as the 1980s,” Susan Criss said. “I am so proud that my father was able to play a key role in helping bring justice to thousands of our fellow Texans.”
Susan Criss provided more details of the hours leading to her father’s death in an interview with Angela Wilson of the Daily News of Galveston, published on Monday, May 11, 2020.
“The passing of my father was extremely unexpected,” Susan Criss said. “He woke up Sunday in the hospital and asked for the doctors’ and nurses’ names because he wanted to send them thank-you cards. The staff was more than helpful, and we appreciate them so much.”
In the Daily News article, Susan Criss spoke of her father’s legacy in the Texas Legislature and on behalf of working families throughout Texas.
“My dad sponsored and passed more than 100 pieces of legislation and was a member of a lot of committees. He was so passionate about helping people who couldn’t fight for themselves,” she reflected. “But his crowning moment was when he helped to get a bill passed that got benefits for migrant farmers. He fought so hard for that one because his mother was one in California. He always said that was his best achievement in the Legislature.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa of Brownsville and Vice Chair Carla Brailey of Houston issued the following statement after the news of his passing:
“Texas Democrats lost a giant. We are saddened to hear of the passing of former state Representative and former Galveston County Democratic Party Chair Lloyd Criss, Jr.. A union fighter, respected lawmaker, and proud progressive, Lloyd spent his entire career fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and was always known as one of the most honest men in the Texas Legislature. Lloyd served in the Texas House for over two decades and will always be remembered for passing protections and benefits for migrant farmers. Simply put, Lloyd was a giant in every single way.”
His obituary made special note of why farm workers were important to him in his personal and legislative lives.
“He fought hard for working families and spoke truth to power on their behalf. His proudest work in the Legislature was securing benefits for farm workers. His mother had been a migrant farm worker as a child as her father had died in a work related accident before she was two months old,” the obituary stated.
As chairman of the key House committee, Rep. Lloyd Criss, Jr. used his considerable political influence to help pass bills carried by Hinojosa and Moreno, two rising political stars who were champions for laws that are now viewed as “civil rights landmarks”, the former Galveston County district judge said.
Among the key legislation shaped by Rep. Lloyd Criss, Jr., in conjunction with Hinojosa, Moreno and other Hispanic legislators, was a state law that now requires farm workers to be protected by workers compensation, which is medical and disability insurance for people who are injured on-the-job, she noted.
Also, her father helped on other key measures, including a law that abolished the use of a short-handle hoe by farm workers, a tool that would result in painful, permanent back injuries to users. He also supported efforts to do away with the long-time practice of aerial spraying of dangerous pesticides on farm workers while they were still in the fields, she added.
Rep. Lloyd Criss, Jr. also fought for a law that now requires that outdoor toilets for men and women be provided for farm workers at their work sites, she said.
Rep. Lloyd Criss, Jr. also carried the legislation that provided unemployment insurance for farm workers, a goal that had been sought for about 50 years. That measure was so significant that César Estrada Chávez, the co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America and a national civil rights activist, came to Austin to support the Criss legislation.
His obituary follows:
Lloyd William Criss, Jr., 79 of La Marque passed away on Sunday, May 10, 2020 in Texas City.
Lloyd William Criss Jr. was born January 17, 1941 into a family of union plumbers and pipe fitters in Galveston. As a young child he moved with his parents, Lloyd and Jesse Pearl Criss and his brother Donnie to Texas City. There his family became active in St. George’s Episcopal Church.
He worked in the Youth Job Corps and as a pipe fitter then as a union business agent for Pipefitters 211. He belonged to Plumbers and Pipefitters 200, Pipefitters 211, CWA and AFSCME. He remained a dedicated servant to the Labor movement his entire life.
Lloyd also was a public servant. He served 12 years in the Texas House of Representatives beginning in 1979. His mentors and close friends there were Sen. Babe Schwartz and Nick Kralj.
Lloyd served on several committees and chaired the Labor Committee. He loved the men and women that he served with in the Texas Legislature.
He fought hard for working families and spoke truth to power on their behalf. His proudest work in the Legislature was securing benefits for farm workers. His mother had been a migrant farm worker as a child as her father had died in a work related accident before she was two months old.
He passed numerous pieces of legislation including bills about worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, gambling, flooding, crime victim compensation, banning cop killer bullets, railroads, Texas A&M at Galveston, safe asbestos removal, the port & harbor, judicial education, the Battleship Texas, hurricane evacuation, motorcycle training and safety, child labor, open government and the County of Galveston.
He later served office on the La Marque City Council. The Texas Democratic Party State Executive Committee and as Galveston County Democratic Chair.
In April he celebrated 60 years of marriage. Of all his titles “Grandpa” was his favorite.
He is preceded in death by his parents and brother Donald Criss. Lloyd is survived by his wife Diane Criss, of La Marque, daughter Judge Susan Criss and Col. (Ret.) Rick Rousseau of Galveston, Texas, two sons: Lloyd W. Criss III of Texas City and Ted Criss of Texas City, three grandchildren: Patrick Criss and Kristi, Lloyd Criss IV and Jessica and Courtney Criss and five great grandchildren: Paityn Criss, Cooper Criss, Carter Criss, London Criss and Emmanuel Garza.
A memorial service will be held when it is safe to attend. In lieu of flowers memorials may be sent to St. George’s Episcopal Church in Texas City.
REV. JAMES E. DANIELS HONORS CONTRIBUTIONS OF LLOYD CRISS, JR. TO WORKING FAMILIES IN TEXAS
The Rev. James E. Daniels of Texas City, the founder and chairman of the Eagle’s Nest community organization, issued the following tribute to Lloyd Criss, Jr.:
I was saddened by the untimely death of my friend and confidante, Lloyd Criss Jr.
Lloyd was an inspiration to me during the time that I served as a union officer for five different international unions.
I met Lloyd when I became a member of Labor Local No. 116, in the late ‘60s. At that time, African Americans could only maintain membership in the Laborers Local.
However, those of us who were believers in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 knew that we needed to fight for the rights that we were being denied because the Civil Rights Act had made it legal for any and all men to work out of any craft that their intelligence, physicality and instincts would allow.
It was during the struggle to open up the crafts to minorities that I met Lloyd.
Lloyd was a pipefitter at the time. He was a person who was keenly aware that times were changing. He began to work with the late Johnny Henderson, who was a civil rights activist for whom the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Court building is named.
Those two men fought diligently to make change happen. They made strong stances in the Galveston County AFL-CIO and supported the young laborers in the struggle because we all knew that the weight of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Will of God were with us.
With the leadership of these two great men, the crafts were integrated.
As a result of the actions of Criss, Henderson and other men and women who possessed and valued virtues of hard work, honesty, good will and the love of God, Galveston County was integrated. Minority men and women began to run for public office, school districts integrated and College of the Mainland was built out of the need for a changing time.
I believe both Lloyd and Johnny were unifiers. They understood and lived by the words of Jesus Christ. They understood the meaning of the words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” They knew that spiritual strength is unity.
We now live in a very polarized world. We haven’t been this divided since 1861, and we know how that ended. We’re under pressure to do something now. Our children and grandchildren’s future are at stake. What kind of world do we want to leave them?
Thankfully, those of us who live in the Settlement Community have forged a lasting relationship. The Texas City and La Marque police departments, and the West-end Ministers and Leadership Alliance have unified the twin cities.
Further, the consolidation of the school districts exemplifies what can be accomplished when men and women are willing to work toward a common goal. We can literally point to our new schools, the renovations and additions of the College of the Mainland and can say with assurance that police chiefs Joe Stanton and Kirk Jackson continue to coordinate efforts to make sure that criminals understand that crime in this community will not pay.
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