May 2012

Metro Employee Pension Secured Thanks to Action by SEIU!

We are pleased to announce that some major threats to Metro employee retirement benefits have been avoided thanks to the direct action of SEIU Local 205.

What Happened?
The Study & Formulating Committee, which has been closely examining Metro’s retirement, health insurance, and injured-on-duty (IOD) benefits released their report after months of deliberation and study of the employee benefit system.

What Did The Committee’s Report Say?
Among other things, the Committee’s report recommended NOT to make changes to the employee Defined Benefit plan, also known as “the pension”. The major change the Committee did recommend was changing the number of years that it would take for an employee to vest in the pension from five years to ten. As many of you know, the pension’s vesting period used to be ten years and was only changed in recent years.

“The current defined benefit plan platform for Metro’s pension system appears to still be well funded, managed and appropriate at this time,” the report said.  “We did not conclude that there was a financial crisis related to pension and benefits that warranted major changes in the system”.

How Did All of This Happen?
Back in August of last year, the city’s Finance Director suggested some major changes to be studied by the Committee, including requiring employee contributions and transitioning to a defined contribution plan. SEIU also proposed changes – all of them improvements – but the critical focus was for us to put the brakes on some of the Administration’s more radical proposals. Which we did.

What Did SEIU Do to Protect Our Retirement?
When Local 205 learned of Mr. Riebeling’s proposals, the Union launched an aggressive education and political campaign. We hosted meetings in worksites all across Metro Government on a “Benefits Tour” to educate employees on the issues. The Union also collected hundreds of surveys from both union and non-union Metro employees asking their opinions on benefits. SEIU members made phone calls to Metro Council members expressing their concerns and we hosted a special Town Hall meeting as part of our “Metro Muscle” campaign to have workers connect with their council member that was well attended and well-reviewed by both the members and the electeds.

When Local 205 learned that the Dean Administration was using a consultant to “study” Metro benefits, the Union had a benefits researcher do an analysis on Metro’s pension plan and give a presentation to the Study & Formulating Committee first. Ilana Boivie from the National Institute on Retirement Security (“NIRS”) discovered that if Metro converted its system over from a pension to a defined contribution plan (like a 401k), it would actually cost the city more money than if they left the system alone. In a surprise move, the Administration’s own consultants agreed with that assessment, forcing the administration to back away from many of their original proposals.

Is This Issue Settled?
Yes. After the Study and Formulating report came out, the Benefit Board analyzed it and made its own set of recommendations, which were then sent on to the Metro Council for a vote. In the end, the most significant threats to Metro employee benefits have been stopped, but now employees must work for Metro for ten years until they are vested in the system – something that was the norm for Metro employees for decades. No benefits were cut and no contributions from employees will be required thanks to the work of SEIU Local 205 and the other public officials who have worked with the Union on this issue.

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At Metro General Services, Workers Are Part of the Solution on Scheduling Issues!

When Management decided to unilaterally change the work schedules of employees working in the Heavy Vehicle Shop, they didn’t give much thought as to how this would impact the lives of employees. Rather than just complaining about it, the workers did the smart thing and called the Union. Before long, the Union Rep had scheduled a meeting with the workers, the department head, and other key decision makers to work out a solution that everyone could agree on.

“They were ready to just push this through, but now we have a better situation where people felt like they had a say in the matter,” says Daryl Hawkins, a shop steward.  “Now, the people who wanted the new schedule volunteered for it and the ones who didn’t want to change schedules didn’t have to. So far, I’ve heard no complaints.”

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Local 205 Wins Lawsuit Against Metro Schools!

For Immediate Release:

Court Finds MNPS Support Employees Entitled to Appeals

“School Board must do its job and hear employee appeals,” Union says

NASHVILLE, TN – Tanya Aina-Labinjo of Antioch has won a major victory in a lawsuit she filed in April against Dr. Jesse Register and the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, seeking the right to appeal her termination to the Board of Education.

Ms. Aina-Labinjo, who worked as a cashier in the cafeteria at Cane Ridge High School, was terminated by the district in mid-February. After her termination, she submitted a request for an appeal hearing to Board of Public Education chairwoman Gracie Porter. An attorney for Metro responded, saying that an appeal hearing was not warranted. According to the lawsuit filed by Ms. Aina-Labinjo, however, the Metro Charter gives terminated employees an absolute right to appeal to the Board of Public Education.

At a hearing on May 7, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle made the decision to grant a peremptory writ of mandamus compelling the Board of Public Education to hear Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s appeal. Chancellor Lyle found that the provisions of the Metro Charter clearly provided for an appeal, despite recent changes to state law. In addition, Chancellor Lyle found that public policy favors an administrative appeal to the Board of Public Education. A signed order is expected soon.

“We are very pleased to have achieved this result for Ms. Aina-Labinjo and to confirm the right of non-teaching employees to appeal to the school board. The fact that the court was willing to issue a writ of mandamus, which is extraordinary relief, demonstrates the strength and validity of Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s lawsuit,” said Dewey Branstetter, Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s attorney. Mr. Branstetter has extensive experience dealing with the Metro Charter and was a former member of the Metro Board of Public Education himself. He adds, “When someone’s livelihood is at stake, an appeal helps ensure that they are treated fairly. That was the intent of the Metro Charter, and that is what the court found.”

“Tanya deserves to be heard by the Board,” says Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. SEIU represents support employees in the Metro Schools and supports Ms. Aina-Labinjo in her suit against the district. “We never understood why the Board thought it could avoid this responsibility. We are pleased that the court agreed that it is the duty of the Board to hear her appeal.”

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