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There will be an interfaith prayer vigil for Tennessee Tech, President Bob Bell, and Tech custodians on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 5pm on the Tech Quad. As many of you may have read, the university has taken the next step towards outsourcing custodial jobs to Service Solutions, part of the UK-based conglomerate Compass Group, and are now in negotiations with them. We invite you to join us on MONDAY, February 13th at 5 PM (CENTRAL) on the Quad to pray:
*For leaders to make the right decision and keep custodians in the Tech family,
*For custodians to have strength and courage, and
*For faculty, staff, and students who will also be affected by this decision. The university isn't outsourcing just a group of people, they are outsourcing our family.

Off-campus folks can find parking along 8th and 9th St or Jefferson Ave (parallel to Dixie Ave). The Quad runs between Derryberry Hall (William L Jones Dr off Dixie Ave) and 7th St.


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Much could have been done to avoid this bad outsourcing decision. As campuses around the state and country utilize student fees to generate energy savings through efficiency, Tech as an institution – under the leadership of Dr. Claire Stinson, Vice President for Business and Planning, and President Bell – is headed for the shoals. Just last Wednesday, Governor Bill Haslam announced, “Increasing energy efficiency in state government will help us be even better stewards of both taxpayer dollars and our environment.” Compared to other schools like ETSU and UT Knoxville, which made cutting supply costs and energy expenses a key part of their response to the budget crisis of the recession, Tech chooses instead to cut costs on the backs of some of the least paid people on campus. “I can’t support my household on minimum wage – it’s just not possible,” said another custodian, the sole wage earner for her family. "Plus we know there are ways to stop this, and things that can fill the budget gap, like the energy savings that the students themselves chose."

In addition, outsourcing with Service Solutions is exactly the decision that the Knox County School Board just voted against. In their meeting November 2, board members voted 5‐4 not to enter into a contract with Service Solutions, despite heavy lobbying. Years ago, UT Knoxville canceled their contract with Service Solutions after a disastrous beginning. Why is Tech buying into the losers?

Despite what Tech officials project about cost savings with this outsourcing move, past experience has shown that the costs come back. The cost to the Cookeville community by a major employer from lost jobs and lost health insurance strains the already fragile social safety net. In addition, Tech will spend money on employee turnover, repeated training, and contract overages, and the state will be charged immeasurable money in the way of buildings deteriorating from poor upkeep. Taxpayers are handing over tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure to a company whose mission is to realize its own short‐term profits.

IB ImageMost of the Tennessee Tech faculty, staff, and student body—with solidarity and support from across the region and many in the Cookeville community—remain united against the idea that outsourcing or privatization of our custodial services will improve our campus or enhance the common good. On October 21, the United Campus Workers organized a rally and march to send a clear message to the Tech administration that our custodians are awesome and the idea of outsourcing is awful.

Our spirited rally invoked a Halloween theme, complete with zombies and grim reapers representing the dark threat of losing one’s job or benefits in this bumpy economy. Following spirited songs, chants, and speeches along Dixie, we marched with a coffin across campus and down Seventh Street towards the hospital, where we gathered for more speeches, finally concluding with a candlelight vigil and closing remarks from the Rev. Pat Handlson.

Close to 100 people participated in the rally, and most remarked that it was an empowering and invigorating experience. While the fears of outsourcing have a tendency to discourage and divide us, acting with a united voice for workplace justice left us encouraged and united. The virtual media blackout from the major Cookeville print and radio sources struck us as a serious oversight on their part, but the student-run campus media The Oracle and WTTU continue to cover our cause in a sympathetic manner.

The trend in public higher education for decades has been to follow the failed business models of extreme privatization that have diminished professionalism and outsourced American jobs. For the faculty, many have been “outsourced” internally, where tenured professors have been replaced by temporary instructors. With United Campus Workers, we recognize the dignity of all work and honor especially the connections between colleagues whose labor is precarious and contingent or does not include basic courtesies like full-time hours, a living wage, or health/retirement benefits. The longer struggle to change the structure of our institutions would greatly benefit adjunct faculty, custodians, and other co-workers who contribute greatly to the success of our universities but do not earn their fair share.

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Tennessee Tech is more than a university; we're a family, and students, staff, and faculty all take pride in the purple and gold. The potential outsourcing of TTU custodial staff is an unwise attempt to balance the university's budget on the backs of our own brothers and sisters. Outsourcing may make immediate financial sense to the administration, but these members of our community are priceless. As we go to press, no final decision has been reached by the administration, and we continue to pressure them with emails, phone calls, letters, and public actions, raising awareness and our voices, hoping to change the outcome and reverse the decision to outsource.The moral cost of outsourcing coupled with the cost to community morale could be devastating. Faculty stand with custodians because we're all custodians: custodians of the higher good, custodians of the reputation of a TTU education, custodians of the truth.

 

- Andy Smith is a tenured Instructor of English at TTU and a member of UCW-CWA

 

IB ImageThis past weekend scores of campus workers spent their Saturday at our union's second annual Convention. Members run this union, and we use this annual state-wide meeting to set the political direction of the United Campus Workers. Members came from all three grand regions of the state, representing higher education employees at a dozen specific universities and community colleges. The day began with members giving shout out to "our people": the custodians and grounds workers; the tenured and tenure-track faculty; the clerical workers, office assistants, administrative professionals and secretaries; the craft workers; the contingent and adjunct faculty; our friends, families and all working people.Because we know that knowledge is power, members participated and lead workshops discussing grassroots lobbying, power at work, grievances and organizing.

IB ImageDuring the afternoon session members moved and voted on a motion that affirmed the issues brought forward by literally hundreds of campus workers over the past months as the central components of a Campus Workers Bill of Rights. Over the coming weeks union members will continue the important work of drafting this Bill of Rights so we can better educate our campus administrations, elected officials and the general public.

The vote included such important issues as Living Wages, market value pay and pay equity; affordable health care, real due process rights, and a halt to corporate privatization schemes that harm our institutions of public higher education and the essential staff that make our campuses run day in, and day out.; and an end to discrimination on campus and our right to organize. Our program will demand that all Tennesseans have access to quality, public higher education, and that workers are treated with dignity and respect. After all, we know that our working conditions are the learning conditions for our students, both within and beyond the classroom to the dorms, grounds, libraries, offices and shops on each and every higher ed campus. Convention attendees repeated over and over again: these are not simply a list of demands, these are our rights to be treated as human beings with basic decency.

IB ImageOur movement has made real progress in the last year, winning the first pay raise in 4 years with flat dollar minimums across both UT and TBR systems. Our power has grown as our membership expands to every public university and community college. In closing Convention union members joined hands as we sang the old labor hymn "Solidarity Forever" to proclaim that "The Union makes us strong!"