September 2014

Nashville Public Employees Respond to Pew Report on Benefits

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew's proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew’s proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Workers on Public Employee Pension and Health Systems: “It Ain’t Broke… Don’t Fix It”

Hundreds of Nashville firefighters, nurses, law enforcement officers, librarians, water technicians, school employees, and other public service workers and retirees spoke out against a proposal by Pew Charitable Trusts to cut public employee and retiree benefits at a meeting of the Study and Formulating Committee.

Pew issued an interim report that explored a proposal for Metro Nashville to close its existing defined-benefit pension plan and shift future employees into a state pension plan that is a combination – or “hybrid” – of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-type defined-contribution plan. A hybrid proposal would shift more of the costs onto employees, who make on average about $33,000/ year according to a recent compensation study. “A lot of us have to take second jobs to make ends meet and many of us are single moms,” said Vanessa Sanders, a labor and delivery nurse at General Hospital. “After taxes, transportation, health insurance, and all the other necessities, we just cannot afford to have more money come out of our paychecks for a retirement contribution.”

Many questioned the need for any changes after the city conducted a similar study of employee benefits in 2012 in which several key adjustments to the plan were already made. Recently, Metro’s actuaries revealed that the city’s defined benefit plan is 83% funded, putting it in the top tier of public pension funds. CNBC reported that in 2013, the Nashville plan’s investment returns were the fifth highest of all city and state plans in the U.S. In other cities and states that have shifted to a “hybrid” type like the one proposed by Pew, costs to taxpayers increased while benefits for beneficiaries decreased. “If changing the system is actually going to cost the city more money and deliver less of a benefit to workers, why the heck would we do it,” asked Rick Beasley, a 911 dispatcher. “It sounds to me like Pew is creating a “lose-lose” situation that leaves taxpayers and employees paying more and getting less.”

“It ain’t broke, and we don’t need Pew fixing it,” said Jack Byrd, a corrections officer. Pew’s work has been funded by a foundation organized by billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive and hedge fund manager. Some have criticized Arnold’s efforts, saying that hedge fund managers like Arnold collect generous sums in fees for managing the funds while workers are left with reduced pension benefits.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 205, which represents thousands of Metro employees across dozens of city departments, agencies, and in Metro schools, made it clear that it opposes any changes to employee benefits. “Pew and their allies are proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Doug Collier, president of Local 205. “If there are any cuts that need to happen in Nashville, it should be to the tax breaks and corporate welfare being handed out to millionaires.”

Pew officials ultimately admitted in their interim report to the Study & Formulating Committee that Metro’s pension is in “solid financial shape,” but did find significant concerns with the unfunded liability the city has as a result of its retiree medical program. The Committee announced that Pew’s work in ongoing and another report is expected in the coming months to examine some remaining issues. The Committee’s next meeting date has not been announced yet.

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Grievance Victory Exposes Problems in Hiring at Metro Health Department!

Should the Metro Public Health Department hire the most qualified applicants or should they hire whoever gives the best interview—regardless of credentials, experience, or qualifications?

This was only one of the core issues at stake when MPHD decided to hire someone from outside of the Health Department after several qualified internal applicants applied for a job in the STD division.

Charncey Springer, who was headed for unemployment with the demise of the New Life Fatherhood Program, applied for a position that was posted “for MPHD employees only” and was shocked to discover that he and nine other current department employees were passed over in favor of someone from outside of Metro who had little to no experience in this particular job.

Charncey contacted SEIU and filed a grievance. Rather wait until the grievance was resolved, the Health Department hired the outside candidate.

To make matters worse, H.R. did not do a reference check of the new employee until after she was hired and after Charncey’s grievance was filed. The Union’s investigation of the case turned up some shady hiring practices that members of the Board found “concerning,” including the following findings by the Personnel Committee:

  • The hiring practices at MPHD are not transparent.
  • A transparent, objective process for hiring is not currently being utilized.
  • The value of placing current employees facing layoffs in vacancies is not conveyed to hiring supervisors as a value trumping more minor preferences for hiring external candidates.
  • The reference checking process revealed during the hearing of this appeal is concerning. No references provided by the successful applicant were checked prior to hiring. Just as concerning, when, after the grievance at issue was filed, only one reference was obtained.

In the end, the Board of Health ruled that the Department had violated the Civil Service Rules and directed MPHD to appoint Charncey to the position if he still wanted it.

Charncey was represented in his grievance at all stages by SEIU. The union files grievances on behalf of employees when applicable but can only do so for dues-paying members. Congratulations to Charncey on his new position with MPHD! Here’s what Charncey had to say about his experience working with SEIU to address his issue:

“My name is Charncey Springer. I am an employee of the Metro Public Health Department here in Nashville, Tennessee and member of SEIU Local 205. As an affiliate of the local chapter of SEIU, I think it is important to be a part of an organization that always looks out for your best interest as an employee; an organization that goes out of its way to know how your company operates so that you can work in a safe and just environment.

I recently needed the assistance of my local chapter in a situation regarding employee placement. My concerns focused on the health department’s policy behind its hiring practice and what should be done to ensure that the most qualified individual is selected for the position.

Through the cooperation of the health department along with the diligent work and investigation of my SEIU representatives, we were able to discover some errors in the Civil Service guide that were in much need of clarification for the sake of accuracy as well equity toward all employees in a situation such as this. As a result, a grievance was filed and a hearing was conducted by the Board of Health where fact finding took place to ensure that issue was addressed.

In the end, my grievance was up held and the administrative staff of the health department began drawing up provisions to ensure that in the future, the best candidates for employment are selected. I’m almost certain that I would not have been able to do this without the assistance of my local reps Mark Naccarato and SEIU Union attorney Brad Rayson. I encourage anyone who is considering becoming a part of a SEIU to take the plunge and be a part of an organization that will ensure that while working in this great country, you as a worker will receive due process in all matters of employment as well as help protect the integrity of the work place. Thank you.”

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Election 2014: TN Constitutional Amendments – What Do They Mean?

WeThePeople copyYou are probably starting to hear more about the amendments to the state constitution which will be on the ballot this November. We wanted to let you know what the four amendments are, how they will appear on the ballot, and what they mean.

SEIU Local 205 HAS NOT TAKEN OFFICIAL POSITIONS ON THESE AMENDMENTS. This is to make sure you are aware of what the amendments mean in plain terms.

Amendment 1 -What it means:

This allows the State Legislature to make laws to prevent the termination of a pregnancy including situations related to rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother.

Amendment 2—What it means:

This requires all State Supreme Court and Appellate Judges be appointed by the governor and then approved by the State Legislature. Once the first term is completed, voters will chose whether to retain the judges.

Amendment 3—What it means:

It bans any personal income tax on the local or state level in Tennessee.

Amendment 4—What it means:

It bans any other type of lottery in the state unless approved by two-thirds of the State House and Senate. If any other lottery is approved, it must benefit only nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status.

 

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