2019 Legislature: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Wow - what a whirlwind this legislative session has been. From attacks on public education and voting rights to outrageous and unethical behavior from Speaker of the House Glen Casada, UCW has been closely following the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2019 session.

In addition to phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings throughout the session, UCW members turned out all across the state for our annual Lobby Day on March 6. We met with legislators representing our districts, and held our “State of Higher Education” press conference to draw attention to the need for fair raises, the rising instances of hate and bigotry on campuses, and the need for campus workers to have a voice. Check out our coverage of the event on Facebook Live, in the Nashville Post, and in the Daily Memphian.

UCW introduced two pieces of legislation this session to address pay on campus, and was active in supporting and opposing many other pieces of legislation. Here’s where they stand:

HB 707/SB 775: UCW’s bill to raise adjunct pay to a minimum of $1000 per credit hour. Over the course of session we added 12 bipartisan co-sponsors from across the state to this bill. While we weren’t able to pass the pay raise this year, the bill is being sent to the State Comptroller’s office over the summer to produce a detailed report on adjunct pay - the first time this has ever been studied in Tennessee.  We succeeded in moving the issue forward and gathering new supporters. This has only made us more determined and better positioned for the fight next year.

  • HB 1105/SB 1333: UCW’s Fair Raise Bill to guarantee flat dollar across the board raises for ALL higher ed employees. Due to an error in the bill language generated by the legal department, we weren’t able to move this bill out of committee. Our sponsors are committed to pick it up next year with the correct language to support campus workers.
  • HB 823/SB 668: Requires reports of all land grant funding, in an effort to address the chronic underfunding of TSU, Tennessee’s only public HBCU. This bill, sponsored by TSU alum Harold Love, passed into law! We held an event at TSU on April 16 in support of this effort, and you can watch the livestream HERE.
  • HB 939/SB 795: This was Governor Lee’s “education savings account” bill, aka vouchers to take public money to pay for private schools. UCW opposed this massive privatization effort, and worked with allies to drive calls to representatives asking them to vote no. Unfortunately this bill passed after a dramatic house floor vote of convincing legislators to switch their votes. The FBI is currently investigating whether Speaker Casada illegally bribed legislators for their votes.
  • HB 1079/SB 971: This bill imposes civil and criminal penalties on organizations that conduct voter registration drives and turn in registration forms that have errors on them. This is an effort to make it harder to vote, and we opposed it. Unfortunately it also passed into law. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this law.

UCW chapters across the state endorsed numerous candidates that were elected to state office. Members vote for endorsements based on a candidate’s support for UCW issues. The candidates we endorsed and supported have stood strong for campus workers, and we want to highlight some of their hard work. Supporting accountable elected officials is part and parcel of our work to create a campus for all. A few highlights:

  • Newly elected State Senator Katrina Robinson (Senate District 33, Memphis) led the charge to defeat the harmful and transphobic “bathroom bill” on the senate floor and passed her bill (SB 75) about free feminine hygiene products for female prisoners.
  • Rep. Gloria Johnson (House District 13, Knoxville) worked hard to push back the tide of school privatization via publicly-funded vouchers to private schools. Speaking on the House floor, rallying public school supporters across the state, and informing the public via social media, Rep. Johnson has been a fierce advocate for students and teachers for her whole career. While ultimately unsuccessful, Rep. Johnson showed exemplary courage and fortitude.

All UCW members are invited to join and become active in our legislative and political efforts - we have more of an impact when lawmakers hear from their constituents in all parts of the state, and when we can act as a united front for campus workers.

  • Attend UCW’s Summer Legislative Strategy Meeting: We will be convening in Nashville on June 22 to chart our course for the next year of political and legislative work. We need you there! All members - whether new to the union or a seasoned activist - are invited to attend. You can RSVP here.
  • Join UCW’s Legislative and Political Action Committee: Our LPAC meets twice per month via conference call to discuss updates and make plans. Reply to this email if you are interested in joining.
  • Contribute to UCW’s Legislative and Political Action Fund: Becoming a monthly contributor to PAF builds our capacity to fight for UCW candidates and issues. Your dues cannot be used for this purpose so this is a separate fund. Will you chip in $5 per month by filling out the PAF section of our online form HERE?