Knoxville, TN - After more than two years of campaigning by United Campus Workers, on Monday, March 1 at the monthly Faculty Senate meeting at the Univers

UCW has launched an open letter calling on Governor Bill Lee to include higher education employees in COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans. 

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.

IB Image

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!"

Workers win pay increases, struggles for Living Wages, adequate funding and rights continue

Last fall UCW, Tennessee’s higher-education union, launched an ambitious campaign for Living Wages and a real cost of living increase, to address the insurance hikes, to win rights for higher education workers, and to demand that our public colleges and universities receive the state funding that they are owed.IB Image

Given the economic attacks all working people are facing, we knew narrow complaints alone would not only fall short, they’d actually hold our efforts back. Rather than whining that “we should be put first for a change,” we said that “All Tennesseans need good jobs, with living wages and our public services.” We pointed out that everyone deserves affordable health care, instead of solely focusing on our out-of-control health insurance costs. We spoke plainly about the institutional poverty on our campuses: staff forced to work 2nd and 3rd jobs, long-time employees still barely paid $8.00/hour, adjunct faculty hustling jobs at multiple institutions for a few hundred dollars a credit hour. We demanded adequate funding.

We reached out to students and community allies to organize speak-outs, pickets, and vigils and to send emails and make phone calls targeting the legislature, UT and TBR system officials, and the governor. And on March 15th we organized a statewide coalition that brought 1,500 people to Nashville for one of the largest weekday rallies our state capitol has seen in years.

Because of these efforts all higher-education employees won the largest raises many have ever seen! For the first time TBR instituted a system-wide flat dollar raise in addition to a 3% across the board increase. This minimum amount of $750 will affect 2,500 TBR workers making wages less than $12.82 an hour. At UT our workers won increases in base pay to $8.50, a flat minimum dollar raise of $1,000 for other employees and a 2-3% across the board pay pool.

All of this must also be understood against the backdrop of the nation-wide attacks on public workers. Even within Tennessee, let’s remember that state agency employees only received a 1.6% increase. Surely many of us remember 2006 and many other years when higher ed received smaller raises so state agency managers and others could receive special “pay plans.” So what’s different between 2006 and today? For starters, our union!

IB Image

As the saying goes, “A closed mouth never gets fed.” Needless to say, higher education workers have made sure not to keep our mouths shut. We’ve been organizing, because we know that there is power in numbers. Since 2006 our union’s membership has more than doubled, with members now on 14 higher-education campuses. And we’re not turning back until we win living wages, employment rights and real shared governance on our campuses – collective bargaining!

There remains much work to win fair grievance procedures for staff and faculty, real layoff protections, and the end to discrimination on the campuses. This year our members wrote HB 1722/SB 1751 sponsored by Rep. Barbara Cooper and Senator Ophelia Ford. This legislation would extend real rights to UT employees facing layoffs, rights on par with civil service protections. The House Education committee has asked if this matter can be address through non-legislative means. We are in touch with the sponsors and our members are planning next steps. Impending layoffs of members in the UTK Social Work Office of Research and Public Services and the department of Advancement Services remind us of the importance moving forward on these essential efforts. 

Likewise, we must continue pushing back against the constant tuition hikes to make up for cuts in state funding and to give top-paid administrators like UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek $27,000 raises. Our schools are public schools: they need state funding! Only by coming together and building coalitions can we win. Our union gives us a voice and united we will win!

Not a member?

United Campus Workers is Tennessee’s higher education union; the only voice made up and run by staff and faculty at Tennessee’s colleges and universities. UCW members are active organizing for our interests on our campuses and on Capitol Hill. To join, visit the UCW website at or call 1-877-292-3865 for more information. There is power in numbers, lift your voice today!

“You have got to be kidding me!” That was the response of many University of Tennessee employees upon learning that UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek is in line for an 8% pay raise, at the same time the University is raising tuition and congratulating itself on giving faculty and staff a mere 2% across the board increase (with a $1,000 minimum) and the possibility of a merit raise from a 3% pool. (Click here for Knoxville News Sentinel reporting of proposed Chancellor pay increase)

United Campus Workers President Tom Anderson said, “President DiPietro wants to give Chancellor Cheek a $27,600 a year raise. That is more than my total annual salary, and it’s almost twice what the lowest-paid UT employees earn in a year.” Anderson has worked as a Buyer for UTK Facilities Services for ten years. He added that a 2% raise, even with the $1,000 minimum, is still less than $20 a week for anyone earning less than $50,000 annually – and that’s most of the faculty and staff. The median salary for regular employees at UTK in 2009 was about $38,000. “This raise won’t even cover the increase in employee health insurance premiums,” he said, “never mind the other costs that have gone up in the four years since our last raise.”

Many workers won’t even see the raise: it’s only for regular employees. That means the adjunct faculty who teach many of the class sections won’t receive any increase in their pay, nor will term (temporary) employees or undergraduate student assistants.

Cheek’s proposed raise is explained as including a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), as well as reflecting market research showing that he was underpaid compared to similar positions at other universities. Anderson said, “I’ve talked with people who’ve worked here 20 years. No one remembers ever getting a real COLA, where the raise we got was more than inflation. So why are administrators who already make a quarter of a million dollars getting a COLA when custodians who are barely scraping by on less than $17,000 aren’t?”

UCW Steward Wayne Walker, a full-time employee in the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service, said, “The University received a lot of good publicity last year when the president’s staff turned in their UT vehicles and took a 5% pay cut. This looks like an attempt to quietly give back that pay, with interest, on the backs of students who will be facing double-digit tuition increases. And I don’t see them offering any kind of compensation to the people who were laid off last year or just this month in my office.”

Todd Freeberg, UCW Secretary and faculty member in the Psychology Department, said, "They use the argument that they are giving these large raises to match better what these folks would make at comparable institutions. This is so that UT can stay competitive at keeping quality people, which is a perfectly valid argument. However, they unfortunately fail to use that same logic when it comes to raises for faculty and staff."

Earlier today the Tennessee Board of Regents Personnel and Compensation Committee met at Nashville State Community College. UCW was present at this meeting. Among the items on the Committee's agenda were employee salary increases for FY 2012.

The committee voted to recommend a system-wide salary increase of 3% or $750, whichever is greater. This recommendation now goes to the full Board for final approval.

The inclusion of a flat dollar minimum raise, a long time cornerstone of our union's work to win Living Wages for higher education employees will directly benefit 2,500 TBR employees across the state. Additionally, the added raise pool - 3% instead of the state mandated 1.6% - is positive news for all 17,000 TBR employees. Make no mistake, the long campaign for a real cost of living increase helped lead to today's decision. This campaign included the campus speak-out events last fall, the University of Memphis Vigil for a Living Wage in January and the rally that delivered over 1,200 postcards to President Raines on April 8, your trips to Nashville for the March 15 rally, the pickets at ETSU and U of M on June 1, the letter signed by dozens of TTU employees to Chancellor Morgan just two weeks ago, and the innumerable postcards, emails and phone calls to legislators, campus and system administrators.Proposals to allow campuses to implement additional salary increases, including long overdue equity pay adjustments and services bonuses not to exceed $1,000 are welcome news. We will continue to monitor developments as the full Board meets tomorrow.

While this raise will not bring the thousands of TBR employees currently earning poverty-level wages to the Living Wage, it is a real step on what will likely be a long road ahead of us. We knew that this struggle would not be won quickly when we started. Likewise, 3% is still a far cry from bringing salaries for faculty and staff in line with peer institutions, and with no cap included it will also increase the wage-gap between top paid administrators and the rest of us.

Our organizing efforts at TBR schools from Johnson City to Memphis, From Chattanooga to Murfreesboro, from Clarksville to Columbia must continue. This victory shows the results that we can achieve through collective action and a strong, unified voice for all higher education employees!