During one of Nashville’s major snowstorms this winter, an SEIU member for Metro Government wrecked his truck trying to get to work. His supervisor decided to charge him “Absent Without Leave”, which would have caused him to lose one day’s pay and the sick day that he would have accrued for the month.
When the issue was raised with his supervisor, the supervisor dug in her heels. That’s when the Union Representative took the issue to the Department’s director, who had no idea the incident even occurred. The next day, the employee’s AWOL had been downgraded to “emergency excused leave”, which meant that the employee didn’t lose pay or his sick day because of something he had no control over.
Thanks to the activism and solidarity of the members of SEIU Local 205, a Metro councilman moved to “defer indefinitely” his legislation which would have radically changed the retirement of over 13,000 working families and retirees in Middle Tennessee. The two bills would have put Metro’s defined benefit pension plan – one that is stable and solvent – into the hands of Wall Street at a time of financial and economic uncertainty.
“Even before the Great Recession began, Metro employees and retirees have sacrificed for years to keep Metro Government financially stable and now is not the time to sell them and their families out,” said Doug Collier, president of SEIU Local 205. “For three years, Metro employees have seen no cost of living raise and they’ve given up their longevity pay and performance raise while they’re being asked to do more with less. Retirees haven’t had an increase in several years, either,” Collier said. “Meanwhile, we have a hostile political climate driven by misinformation about public employees salaries and benefits and flat-out lies about unions that advocate for the middle class.”
The threat to public services and the people who provide them has been making national headlines recently as teachers, firefighters, police, and other public employees in Wisconsin and other states have been under a coordinated attack by Wall Street and the radical right-wing politicians who do their bidding. SEIU members who lobbied against the bills in Nashville know that they haven’t heard the last of this issue. “All Metro employees and retirees should realize that now more than ever, there are many out there who want to reduce and even take away your benefits that have been negotiated over many years,” said Clyde Smith, a fleet maintenance manager at Metro Water Services. Joan Parmer, a retired Head Start teacher from the Metro Action Commission said, “it’s great that these bills have been deferred indefinitely, but this doesn’t mean we should get complacent!”
The defeat of the anti-pension bills was a major victory for working families in Tennessee and it was only possible thanks to the direct action of the members of SEIU Local 205. “Our presence made a difference,” said Gordon Gross, an immunization services technician for the Metro Health Department, “but we still need to be vigilant”. Gloria Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Meharry Medical College said, “one cannot continue to keep taking from a group of employees that has worked hard for their benefits. We need to stay strong.”
At the Metro Action Commission in Nashville, SEIU members showed solidarity when administrators tried to force workers to use emergency leave during inclement weather, even though the agency’s own policy said otherwise. When the MAC employees took action and posted copies of the policy up on bulletin boards all across the city’s Head Start centers, administrators backed off.