2007 Pay Raise - Victory!

2007 Pay Raise a Step in the Right Direction

”Giving a 3% cost of living increase or $900 to ALL employees is directly attributable to the work of UCW and UT working together on behalf of higher education employees.” State Representative and Budget Committee Chairman Harry Tindell

On Monday, June 11, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Tennessee budget for 2007-2008. It called for a 3% across the board pay raise for all higher education employees, both faculty and staff. Additional monies were allocated to make the higher education compensation package comparable with what state employees are receiving.

On Tuesday June 12 UT President Petersen announced that the minimum pay raise for UT staff would be $900. This represents the largest minimum increase for UT employees in well over a decade, and goes a long way toward ensuring that all UT employees paid a living wage.

United Campus Workers - CWA local 3865 originally called for a $1500 across the board pay raise for all higher education workers in the UT and TBR systems. We felt that such a raise was necessary to remedy the persistent poverty wages at our universities and was a raise that all higher education employees deserved. Many higher education employees work second and third jobs just to make ends meet, and quite a few even qualify for food stamps.

With pay this low, the $900 floor is certainly a step in the right direction. However, we know more MUST be done.

Following the raise announcement, UCW polled many employees on campuses across the state to get their thoughts on it. While appreciative of the raise, many pointed out that with increases in the costs of everyday items like milk, gas, and food, this raise will barely keep up with inflation. Others mentioned that health insurance is slated to go up again this year. Additionally, others pointed out that the lack of substantive raises for several years means that pay at UT and TBR schools is still well below what it ought to be.

The biggest victory of this budget is the assurance that all faculty will receive the full cost of living raise before merit pay is given. During the previous two years faculty at UT schools received raises of only 1 and 1.5%, with an additional merit pool going to a select few. The defeat of the UT administration’s “merit first” plan signals a major change in direction, a change in course that we must work to continue.

We will have to wait and see how the 2% salary pool to address “merit and market salary issues” is implemented. At a an Employee Relations Committee meeting on June 12 in Knoxville, Provost Holub, a top UTK administrator, stated that on average UT employees would be receiving 5% this year. More analysis of this will appear in future articles.

How did we get here?

Those of us active with United Campus Workers often hear from critics of the union that “we take credit for things we didn’t do.”
It is important that this be addressed, because the successes of this year would not have come about without the work of many different actors. While we acknowledge and appreciate some of the work of the UT and TBR government relations teams, many others were involved as well in achieving this victory.

The “union” isn’t some abstract idea, but a living, breathing organization that is working hard to improve working conditions at public universities across Tennessee. At the time of this article’s writing United Campus Workers has over 500 members at the Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses. We are an organized group of employees who are working for change at UT.

In 2005, UT employees, acting collectively through our union UCW-CWA and with allies in the Tennessee AFL-CIO, introduced a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would give all higher education workers a $1200 raise.

This historic legislation ultimately did not pass the General Assembly; however, it represented the starting point of exciting activism on the part of UT employees who want to make a difference at their University.

Over the past three years, scores of UCW-CWA members have taken personal vacation time to lobby for respect and fair pay in Nashville. This year was no different.

In November of 2006, when UT employees first heard from President Petersen and the UT Board of Trustees that a 5% pay plan had been passed as the official recommendation to the state, we were excited. After several years without any raises in the 1990s and subsequent inadequate raises, a 5% raise proposal was welcome news. UCW-CWA took seriously this pay plan, devoting much of our last newsletter to a thorough analysis of the information available to the public.

The other shoe dropped in mid-February when Gov. Phil Bredesen released a budget that contained a 1% raise for higher education employees. Campus employees throughout the UT system were shocked, and did not understand how the Governor, who is chairman of the Board of Trustees, could recommend a budget so completely at odds with UT recommendations. It seemed that once again higher education employees were expected to live with less than what we deserved.

Many UT workers, confused by the 1% raise, waited for UT to address this massive disconnect. However, word never came from the administration; in fact UT made no public mention of the raise to staff and faculty until May 30, 2007.

UCW-CWA did not sit around hoping the promised 5% would magically appear. Instead, we organized van-loads of UT staff, faculty, and students and headed to Nashville. We brought close to 50 employees and student supporters to the State Legislature in early March to make our case for a fair raise directly. On that lobby day we had more than 50 meetings with members of the State House and Senate. We brought the message that UT employees needed a 5% pay raise, with a flat dollar minimum for the lowest paid. We asked for an end to the so-called “merit pay” schemes that our faculty suffered through for the past two years, and we requested money comparable to what other state workers have already received to address pay compression and poverty level wages.

For the first time in three years our members were greeted by Senators and Representatives who recognized the UCW. Members of the General Assembly knew who we were and where we were from. They understood our issues; they apologized for leaving us in a lurch while other state workers received a 3% across the board raise and more than $20 million to address pay compression. They remembered the $1200 flat raise, and several remembered some of the personal stories told to them by our members over these past three years of lobbying efforts. Members of the General Assembly confirmed what our members have come to know: UCW’s power and influence is growing!

Following our big lobby day in March, we made several smaller lobby trips to Nashville where we continued to push for a fair pay raise. In Knoxville and Chattanooga we organized a letter and email campaign to state Senator Jamie Woodson, who received close to 1000 communications from UT employees and community members. We stayed in weekly contact with key members of the Tennessee General Assembly to check on the status of where the budget stands. During the final days of the session we sent several hundred emails to members of the House and Senate, and our members again traveled to Nashville to make our case for a raise directly to the decision makers.

Though the UCW didn’t force UT or the state legislature to implement this budget, it would be naïve for anyone to say that we didn’t have a positive impact on this year’s outcome.

The words of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass would be important for us to reflect on:

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

We still have a long way to go. Please join us as we work to improve conditions for all UT employees!

For more information on how to join UCW-CWA, go to http://ucw-cwa.org/join-us .

Legislator’s Thoughts on the Raise

“I am pleased with the results of this year’s appropriation for Higher Education and UT. The work of the employees, both faculty and staff, made a real impact on the final budget.”

“Giving a 3% cost of living increase or $900 to ALL employees is directly attributable to the work of UCW and UT working together on behalf of higher education employees. I look forward to working with UCW next year.”

Rep. Harry Tindell

“I am very pleased with the strong support our valuable higher education employees received in this budget. Advocates for the University’s employees delivered a very clear and effective message to legislators for increasing wages. The effective combination of the leadership of President Petersen, an outstanding grassroots organization by campus workers and a supportive local delegation, produced very positive results.”

“This success is proof positive that thoughtful citizens getting involved truly does work.”

Senator Jamie Woodson