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UCWs members took part in a unique, concentrated organizing training held in Jackson, MS in mid-October. Joining together with dozens of public workers from other CWA locals from Mississippi, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California, the participants learned about and then practiced principles of union organizing, including how to talk to coworkers and move them to action.

"The OI was a great opportunity to learn new organizing skills and to get to know other union member activists from across the country," said Melanie Barron, a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Geography at UT Knoxville. "I have a better understanding of the importance of building genuine, solid relationships with my coworkers as I’m organizing on the job, and I feel emboldened and ready to make our union stronger—one member at a time."

Liz Roberson, assistant to the vice president for public, health care and education workers, Lisa Kermish, vice president of University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE-CWA Local 9119), and Brenda Scott, president of Mississippi Alliance of State Employees (MASE-CWA), led workshops, and UCW lead organizer Tom Smith and organizer Cassie Watters presented sections as well.

"I came away from the organizing institute feeling equipped and able to spread our union's message, and to confidently and knowledgeably build our union. The institute's trainers and staff, whose enduring patience and hard work focused simply on seeing each of us succeed, were responsible for giving me the needed tools. I whole-heartedly want to thank each and every one of them," said Michael Kuley, Research Assistant II in the Water Center at Tennessee Technological University.

After the training they visited City of Jackson Public Works workers and talked to them about the importance of building their voice, and listened to their stories and concerns. "The organizing training was really exciting for me," said Sheryl Allen, UCW organizer. "The best part was when we went to the job and all of us were working together to talk to city workers. We need lots more of that!"

Over the past several weeks we all have received a number of emails from the administration, and are likely hearing more from the media, our supervisors, colleagues, and friends concerning the purported $20+ million budget gap our university is facing. In response to this disconcerting budgetary situation, our new administration is strongly recommending "responsibility centered management" and an overall administrative and organizing restructuring.

As our union’s organizing committee said in a letter many faculty received this week, the speculative restructuring we have been hearing about speaks clearly to many of us as a deliberate move towards the privatization of our public institution. This application of a corporate model to our university not only threatens the security of our employment but also the quality and cost of the “product” we offer (education) and the experience and outcome of our target “consumer” (the student). At the end of the day, no amount of “right-sizing,” “cost-cutting,” “effectiveness and efficiency” will replace honest-to-goodness public investment in the future of our state through robust expenditures on public education.

Although it may feel as if decisions have already been made and the course to our future laid, in fact the real outcomes of these proposed changes will depend greatly upon our actions over the coming weeks and throughout this academic year. We are not content to see our institution move backwards and we invite you to join us in encouraging an alternative vision.

To this end we are hosting an informal public forum, Public Higher Education in the Age of Austerity, this Friday, September 27th from 12:30-1:30pm in room 308 of the UC. This event will provide information about the funding formula, similar restructuring proposals elsewhere in higher education, and concrete specifics and next steps concerning our situation here at U of M. Please attend and encourage co-workers to come with you for this important discussion.

Please help spread the word to all your colleagues, whether or not they belong to the union, by forwarding this statement or sharing its content with co-workers.

Additionally, we encourage all members to attend and participate actively in the open Town Hall meetings being hosted by university administration next week.

Finally, we know that only through organization and action can we improve our job future. Please consider joining the union’s organizing committee to help grow the union's power, plan future events and develop future statements concerning these matters. The union belongs to you, we can never accomplish more than what we set out to achieve together. If you are interested in the committee, please contact Tom Smith, 1-877-292-3865 (toll free cell) or by email.

 

Defined Benefit/DB side:

State employees contribute for the first time: 5% of salary

State (employer): 4% of payroll

Defined Contribution/DC side:

State employees contribute: 2% of salary with an opt-out feature

State (employer): 5% of salary

 

What does this mean? It means that new hires coming into higher education will have a worse benefit package than current workers have with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System/TCRS, the largest retirement plan for higher education employees, which was recently voted #1 in the country. It means that the current pension plan will not receive contributions that would have come from future new hires.

 

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System serves about 210,500 active employees and 122,500 retirees. Tennessee largely avoided a funding crisis for TCRS through sound economic planning, choosing conservative investments, and making regular pension contributions. Many other states spent the late 1990s and early 2000s making speculative investments and skipping pension payments. As a result the gap between current reserves and future liabilities for those plans grew, ultimately reaching crisis proportions with the economic crisis in 2008. In response many employers, both public and private have introduced so-called “hybrid plans.” But studies are finding that these two-tier retirement plans, where new employees are diverted into a contribution-based plan and vested employees remain in the traditional pension, are actually increasing the funding gap for the pension, ultimately leading some plans to renege on retirement promises.

 

Defined benefit plans are an integral part of retirement income security. This is true both for the employee and employer. The value to employees is well known: the income from these types of pensions is guaranteed and therefore secure and predictable. But for employers, DB plans are the most cost efficient retirement income vehicle. This is because 1) these plans pool the longevity risks of large numbers of individuals, which allow them to avoid the “oversaving” inherent in DC plans (the study mentioned below found a savings of 15% as compared with a typical DC plan); 2) DB plans do not age, and so take advantage of diversified returns over the course of an individual’s lifetime (study showed a savings of 5%); and 3) DB plans achieve greater investment returns as compared with DC plans that are made of individual accounts, in part because they are professionally managed (savings of 26%). The study “A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pension Plans” showed that the cost to deliver the same level of retirement income to a group of employees is 46% lower in a DB plan than it is in a DC plan.

 

Because TCRS is funded with taxpayer dollars, United Campus Workers argued in a March 25 letter to Governor Haslam that insufficient attention was paid to the costs associated with proposed “reforms” and that rather than push for an expedited approach, each should be submitted to an actuary to measure the costs and make that information available to the public.
 

UCW Member and MTSU Chapter VP Rick Kurtz speaks at 2013 Lobby Day on the pension bill and its implications for us

IB Image


From a February 25 UCW press release: "Honestly, these proposals feel more philosophical than based in reality. The economy just went through the worst economic downturn since the Depression; of course earnings were down. The fact that our plan is still over 90% funded despite the economic crisis reinforces its current form. [Treasurer] Lillard’s basis for making the change seems to actually be a basis for keeping it. It weathered the storm. If folks had had their retirement in his proposed plan they would have lost significantly," said UCW President and UTK Facilities Services employee Tom Anderson.

 

"TCRS is not in crisis,” says Anderson. “We need sound government policies to rebuild after the economic shock we have been going through, not an ideological attack on public employees that funnels our salaries into retirement accounts administered by the same Wall Street bankers who have behaved like gamblers on a binge in Las Vegas.”

 

“The facts are plain; any legislation that removes new employees from the current pension will over time destroy our very solvent retirement system and constitute a massive pay cut for hardworking employees earning modest salaries,” explains UCW Vice President and MTSU library employee Rick Kurtz. Kurtz recently ran as a candidate for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees election. “My grandmother who was an English teacher instilled in me the importance of education, hard work and the responsibility of service to others. Our higher education employees, state workers and teachers deserve to have the careers we give to the people of Tennessee honored. If the person who comes after me also gives a lifetime of dedication to our state, she or he is as deserving of the respect of a secure retirement as I am.”

 

We can expect more and more attacks on our public sector benefits as states are now required to report these as liabilities for the first time. This includes things like your insurance after you retire but before you qualify for Medicare. Will you stand up for an affordable, secure retirement? Stay in touch: http://www.facebook.com/SaveTCRS.

 

How did your elected officials vote?
How did your elected officials vote on SB 1005? How did your elected officials vote on HB 948?
SENATE VOTES: HOUSE VOTES:
  House moved to substitute and conform to SB1005
SB1005 by McNally - FLOOR VOTE: THIRD CONSIDERATION AMENDED 4/8/2013
Passed
          Ayes..........................................32
          Noes............................................0
SB1005 by McNally - FLOOR VOTE: PASSAGE ON THIRD CONSIDERATION 4/11/2013
Passed
          Ayes..........................................71
          Noes..........................................16
          Present and not voting..............1
Senators voting aye were: Beavers, Bell, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Crowe, Dickerson, Finney L, Ford, Gardenhire, Green, Gresham, Haile, Harper, Henry, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Ketron, Kyle, Massey, McNally, Niceley, Norris, Overbey, Southerland, Stevens, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Yager, Mr. Speaker Ramsey -- 32. Representatives voting aye were: Alexander, Brooks H, Brooks K, Butt, Calfee, Camper, Carr D, Carr J, Carter, Casada, Curtiss, Dean, Dennis, Doss, Dunn, Durham, Eldridge, Evans, Faison, Farmer, Floyd, Goins, Halford, Hall, Harrison, Hawk, Haynes, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Johnson C, Kane, Keisling, Lamberth, Lollar, Lundberg, Lynn, Marsh, Matheny, McCormick, McDaniel, McManus, Miller, Moody, Parkinson, Pitts, Pody, Powers, Ragan, Rich, Roach, Rogers, Sanderson, Sargent, Sexton, Shepard, Shipley, Sparks, Spivey, Swann, Todd, Travis, Van Huss, Watson, Weaver, White D, White M, Williams R, Wirgau, Womick, Madam Speaker Harwell -- 71.
  Representatives voting no were: Cooper, DeBerry J, Fitzhugh, Hardaway, Jernigan, Johnson G, Jones, Mitchell, Powell, Stewart, Tidwell, Towns, Turner J, Turner M, Williams K, Windle -- 16.
  Representatives present and not voting were: Forgety -- 1.

 

Check out the different media stories on the event at http://www.ucw-cwa.org/ut-custodians.

If you haven't taken action on this issue, take a moment to send a message to key UT decision makers by clicking HERE.  

"We want to inform the wider community about conditions in the department, and to call on the administration to make a commitment to improve them," said Josh Smyser, a Building Services employee and UCW member.  "At a public institution, this kind of bully culture is completely unacceptable, and the record shows that management is making it unbearable."

The department has seen an out flux of employees due to these poor conditions, even as in sourcing, implemented in part to avoid high turnover and lack of a stable, committed workforce, has created the need for more employees.  According to a Freedom of Information Act obtained from UT, 58 employees have been terminated or resigned since January of 2012.

"Our time is for sale, our pride is not," said Troy Grant, a Building Services employee and UCW member.

Some custodians have come forward because they have been assigned to work in unsafe environments.  Others have noted that the atmosphere is "just plain disrespectful," and have been the targets of or witnessed verbal abuse from supervisors.

Alarmingly employees also point to an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in which those who speak up against these conditions are subject to the threat of discipline and retaliation by their supervisors.  "If you speak up, you know they're gonna put you on the list [to be fired], said one custodian, who did not wish to be named precisely for such fears.

Organizers hope that Wednesday's event will garner broader campus and community attention that will demonstrate the urgency and stakes of the problem, and force accountability.  Custodians, their supporters, and the media are encouraged to arrive at the Shiloh Room at 3 pm.  

For more information, contact:
Cameron Brooks at 865-387-4408, [email protected] .

As Senate Bill 1005 and House Bill 948 go up for another committee vote Tuesday, March 26, higher education employees question the full cost analysis and the potential risk that this “reform” may cost taxpayers more in the long run, not less.

 

March 25, 2013

 

Dear Governor Bill Haslam,

           

As representatives of 1,400 campus workers and Tennessee residents, we are concerned that there has been insufficient attention paid to the costs associated with the state’s pension reform plan. While the Treasurer’s reform proposal included three options for reform and one recommendation, all options did not receive a full cost analysis available to the public.

 

A thorough cost analysis is particularly important because research from the National Institute on Retirement Security has shown that the effects of these reforms are often misleading. Their study “A Better Bang for the Buck” shows that it costs employers 46% less to operate a defined benefit (DB) plan than it does for a defined contribution (DC) plan while delivering the same level of benefits. Since taxpayers are the employer for state employees, we must ensure that money is not wasted and the costs of all pension reform options are fully examined. In line with this research, many states and municipalities have conducted feasibility studies of switching from the DB pension to a DC plan. Each of these studies have found that such a move would save little to no money in the long term, and could actually increase retirement plan costs in the near term. Perhaps not surprisingly, none of these states or municipalities opted in favor of the DC switch.

           

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System is in very good fiscal health, and it is unclear why there is a need for changes that may increase the burden on taxpayers. And while the proposed changes only affect new employees, it is important that the state provides quality benefits for all members of their workforce, regardless of their tenure. We are asking you to reconsider the expedited approach of these reforms and submit each proposed reform to an actuary to measure the costs and make that information available to the public. Without this information we should not be moving forward on such an important measure.

 

Sincerely,

 

Tom Anderson

President, United Campus Workers

UT Knoxville Facilities Services employee

 

Resources:

Better Bang for the Buck report
Study of the Wisconsin Retirement System

 

After meeting with over 50 Tennessee legislators at our lobby day yesterday, UCW sends important information on the other side of proposed "pension reform" to *all* legislators today, calling them to VOTE NO on HB 948 and SB 1005.

Safeguarding Our Public Servants’ Earned Benefits:

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System/TCRS helps retain and recruit a strong and experienced workforce needed to continue to provide vital public services.

“Defined contribution” (DC) plans, such as 401ks, can disappear when the economy goes into another round of crisis.

Tennessee workers with DC plans faced considerable losses as a reult of the recent economic crisis caused by Wall Street’s fraudulent practices.

In 2009, expenditures stemming from state and local TCRS pensions supported 21,751 jobs and $357.1 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues in the state of Tennessee.

Retirees without defined benefit pension incomes are six times more likely to experience poverty than those with defined benefits.

401k-style accounts cost twice as much to fund the same retirement income level as traditional pension plans, making them an inefficient use of tax dollars.

TCRS remains one of the top funded state retirement plans in the nation with an over 90% funded ratio. TCRS is a strongly funded plan, has a significant asset base, and has positive cash flow.

There needs to be enough money in the bank to make current pension payments to retirees and to be able to afford a part of the payments for future retirees.

Stand up for a safe retirement and future for Tennessee’s public servants and preserve the TCRS pension plan!

To all Tennessee Representatives and Senators: Vote NO on HB 948 and SB 1005!

RESOURCES
• National Institute on Retirement Security website and reports, presentations: http://www.nirsonline.org/
• TCRS website: http://treasury.tn.gov/tcrs/index.html
• TCRS Summer 2012 newsletter: http://treasury.tn.gov/tcrs/PDFs/Newsletters/RA-Summer12.pdf