|The News Line: Feature
Friday, 9 February 2018
TENNESSEE PRIVATISATION PLAN SMASHED! University of Tennessee campus union scuppers billionaire governor
IN TENNESSEE, an inspiring victory against the outsourcing of all state facilities service jobs has been won under the leadership of the small campus union of the University of Tennessee (UT), United Campus Workers, UCW-CWA.
|Tennessee workers fighting against the outsourcing of jobs and services to private companies occupy the state building in Nashville
Over the course of 27 months, UCW designed strategies that relied on and nurtured the strengths of its diverse membership and encouraged supporters to raise their voices in ways both quiet and loud, on the streets and in the halls of the legislature and through both newly organised and longstanding allied groups.
UCW relied on strategies of varied kinds: contacting legislators repeatedly, holding mass actions on campuses and at the state capitol, mobilising faculty and student senates, getting every work group to write and send petitions against outsourcing to campus administrators, using media resources, and marshalling allies.
In the most hostile environment imaginable, workers never gave up the struggle. UCW-CWA’s extraordinary minority-union victory in ‘right to work’ Tennessee suggests that the options are wide open for successful organising across the South and nation.
A low unemployment but low wage state, Tennessee was on the verge of converting over 1,000 working-class jobs at the UT system and 2,582 more in the Tennessee Board of Regents system into privately managed, insecure and even more poorly paid jobs.
Tennessee Governor, billionaire Republican Bill Haslam and a select group of highly paid administrators in his newly created state Office of Customer Focused Government (OCFG) colluded with multinational corporation Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) to create a plan that would impact every state-owned building in Tennessee, from the public parks and prisons to the halls of higher education and government. The scope of the contract was enormous, covering more than 7,000 state properties containing millions of square feet.
In Tennessee, facilities workers’ jobs are not the best paid but come with good benefits, including tuition discounts for family members and a defined pension plan. These benefits were threatened by the plan proposed by the state and JLL. At every step, the governor and the OCFG obscured details, changed timelines, refused legislative oversight, silenced opponents, and even went so far as to block open records requests. They also refused all requests for an audit of the plan and instead legitimised Haslam’s claims of savings through an analysis performed by a firm owned by his gubernatorial campaign donors.
The OCFG finally acquiesced to demands for public input by opening online comment periods through the state’s website. Out of more than 1,600 comments submitted, only one was in favour of outsourcing. Not surprisingly, the results were not made public and were available only through a formal public records request.
In April 2016, JLL won the bid to the outsourcing contract after a year and a half of closed-door meetings between the state and several huge multinational corporations in a process known as ‘vested outsourcing’, a practice unheard of in state procurement processes.
Universities had to open all their records to the bidding multinational corporations to facilitate their quest for the contract, while the corporations had full authority and access to write the outcomes and terms of the process. As the company tried to displace state facilities workers, JLL had the advantage of compiling bids after examining campus physical plans and cost and expenditure records. Adding to JLL’s advantage, when the state signed the contract with the company it forced campus administrators to argue against the claimed savings if they opposed the scheme.
This wasn’t Haslam’s first relationship with JLL: During the gubernatorial election, he revealed that he had held significant stock in the company. Although he since moved his funds into a blind trust, he never publicly disclosed his tax returns or the actual size of his former stake in JLL.
He came under fire in 2013 when he outsourced facilities management of the Tennessee capitol building after an audit by the Tennessee comptroller found he could profit from its own ‘third party’ recommendations in a contract that ballooned by millions of dollars without being rebid. Further, JLL and its subcontractors have a history of wage theft, discriminatory hiring, civil rights violations, dangerous working conditions, and shoddy work. Indeed, JLL’s management of the Tennessee capitol building came under fire this year because of substandard performance, resulting in the loss of that contract.
Part of what makes this victory so powerful is the challenging organising context unions face in Tennessee and across the South.
Recent painful losses of union recognition at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Boeing in South Carolina, and Nissan in Mississippi compound many states’ legislative actions that have stripped unions of payroll deduction and collective bargaining.
Union busters have used early adopter states like Tennessee as a proving ground for such laws. The prototype and most well-known of these laws is ‘right to work’, which has been in effect in Tennessee since 1947.
In Tennessee, UCW-CWA confronted virtually every legal challenge that union busters have used to block workers from building collective power. United Campus Workers is a minority union, and fights in conditions that read like a laundry list of union organisers’ greatest fears.
UCW unites public-sector higher education workers in a right to work state, without payroll deduction, where public sector workers don’t have a legally recognised right to collectively bargain for a contract. And in this harshest of environments, UCW achieved a historic win.
The victory in Tennessee is a massive encouragement, considering the forces workers were up against.
It was no small blow to the university when Governor Haslam unveiled and pushed the outsourcing plan, and it is no small victory that has been won by union workers and their allies: students, clergy, state legislators, county and city council officials, other unions, and small business owners. This victory is even more significant in the midst of a Republican state supermajority that has no great love for higher education.
• Thousands of healthcare workers will protest across California at 32 hospitals owned by Kaiser Permanente between February 14 and March 9 because of the corporation’s plans to undermine patients and the people who care for them.
‘President Trump and Congress have their hearts set on cutting Americans’ access to quality, affordable healthcare, and instead of standing up to defend their patients, Kaiser Permanente is following the federal government in a race to the bottom,’ said Georgette Bradford, an Ultrasound Technologist at Kaiser Sacramento.
‘This billion dollar corporation should be improving patient care by investing in the caregivers who help patients get and stay healthy every day.’
Kaiser Permanente’s profits increased 60 per cent from 2016 to 2017 and the company has $32 billion in reserves yet is seeking cuts that undermine patient care. That includes cutting wages 20 per cent for thousands of caregivers in Fresno, Stockton, Modesto, Manteca and Tracy and 10 per cent for workers in Sacramento, Davis and Roseville.
The corporation plans to outsource 280 pharmacy warehouse jobs in Oakland, Livermore and Downey, and lay off 700 employees at three call centres in Los Angeles County and move the jobs to other areas of the state where workers will earn $2 per hour less.
More than 55,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in California are members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). Their contract with Kaiser Permanente expires September 30, 2018.
Meanwhile, thousands of Dignity Health caregivers are planning a separate series of 27 protests statewide between February 20 and March 7 to demand the corporation operate in the interests of patients, healthcare workers and communities as it becomes a $28 billion corporation in a merger with Catholic Health Initiatives. Fifteen thousand Dignity Health employees are members of SEIU-UHW, and their contract expires April 1, 2018.
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