Chattanooga City Government


A Tale of Two Libraries: Local 205 Members Take Action!

Some Local 205 members working for Nashville Public Library.

Some Local 205 members working for Nashville Public Library.

SEIU Local 205 members working in public libraries in Nashville and Chattanooga have been organizing to ensure fairness and economic security for them and their co-workers over the last year and have achieved no small amount of success by standing together.

SEIU members working in the Main library in downtown Nashville – who pay over $100/month to park where they work – have been campaigning for nearly a year to address their transportation issues. Union members launched a petition drive and a lobbying campaign of the library director, the board, and city officials. We are happy to report that a free shuttle for employees has been added along with more frequent trips for staff reporting in at different times. “This is a great first step to addressing the parking situation in the main branch,” says Bridget Radford, a shop steward. “The new option has been popular for many staff and we hope to eventually make sure that everyone who wishes to drive to work at the Main library can afford to so.”

Meanwhile, parking reform was also a goal for SEIU members working in the Chattanooga downtown library. Like Nashville, employees had to pay excessive parking fees to park in the lot that their workplace sits on. After workers there passed around a petition with dozens of signatures, SEIU reps raised the issue with city officials and the Mayor’s office. Starting in April, workers now are able to park for free at City Hall only a few blocks away. “Inclement weather presents a challenge sometimes, but I would much rather walk a couple of blocks and save some of my hard-earned money in high parking fees,” says Robert Hart who works in the downtown library.

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Historic New Labor Agreement in Chattanooga!

SEIU members and city officials look on as SEIU's Doug Collier and Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke sign the new labor agreement.

SEIU members and city officials look on as SEIU’s Doug Collier and Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke sign the new labor agreement.

When employees working for the city of Chattanooga contacted SEIU Local 205 back in 2006, they made it clear that they wanted to see the unfair treatment of city employees end and they wanted to have their voices heard in the halls of power.

Eight years later – only days before the historic vote to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga – a new Memorandum of Understanding (also known as an “M.O.U.”) was signed by Mayor Andy Berke and officials at Local 205. The new labor agreement, among other things, gives workers a seat at the table on everything from department policies to budgets to a fair appeals process for employees.

“It’s important that the rank-and-file get a seat at the table because we know what works and what doesn’t,” said Alonzo Strickland, an equipment operator for the Public Works department. “This has been a long time coming and I’m glad to be a part of this union.”

“The new M.O.U. means that workers have the right to good representation and things won’t be one-sided like they sometimes were in the past,” said Sharron Pryor, a rec center employee for the Parks & Recreation department. “What we need now are more people signing up for the union and joining together so that we have more strength and can make more improvements to our pay and benefits.”

The M.O.U. is in effect until 2017 and was signed in a small ceremony attended by SEIU members, Mayor Berke, and city council members. Details of the labor agreement were reported on by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Chattanooga Council Passes Resolution to Protect Social Security and Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share

Local 205 members celebrate the resolution passed by the Chattanooga Council which supports Social Security funding vital services, and protecting jobs.

Local 205 members celebrate the resolution passed by the Chattanooga Council which supports Social Security funding vital services, and protecting jobs.

On the eve of Social Security’s 78th birthday, SEIU Local 205 members stood together at City Hall and applauded Chattanooga City Council action on Resolution 27620, which calls on Congress to end the sequester, and balance the federal budget in a way that will create jobs and strengthen our communities.

The resolution was one way thousands of citizens and elected officials all across America are coming together to protect vital services that serve children, working Americans, and seniors.

“Nearly 80 years after Social Security was signed into law, it is still under threat along with other vital services like Head Start, Meals On Wheels, and job education,” said Steve West, an SEIU member who works for Chattanooga’s Public Works department. “We are happy that Chattanooga’s City Council took a stand to protect these vital services which are so crucial to our community.”

In March of this year, $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts went into effect. These cuts, known as “The Sequester” are a costly wound to our economy and the middle class. At the same time, Congress is also considering cuts to Social Security known as “chained–CPI” which would hurt seniors and puts millions of workers at risk for retirement poverty. Social Security has never contributed to budget deficits and should not be cut as a part of the budget deal. Switching to a chained-CPI would reduce Social Security benefits for current and future retirees by $112 billion over the next 10 years.

“Congress needs to do more to make sure the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. “A fair budget agreement should raise more revenue from wealthy Americans and big corporations. It’s time for Congress to act to restore investment in these vital services, protect Social Security and make corporations pay their fair share.”

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Privatization of Chattanooga Public Utility Thwarted By Local 205!

In one of his last actions before leaving office, former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield proposed a new “Clean Water Authority” that could potentially have outsourced over 250 jobs. Privatization would have cost loyal employees jobs, wages, and other benefits that they have earned.

Thanks to the political work SEIU did in the spring as well as direct actions in the workplace and at City Hall, the Union was able to work with the newly-elected City Council and new Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke to scrap the Clean Water Authority.

“This thing was on a fast track and was supposed to be a ‘done deal’, but our union was able to shut it all down,” says Devin Cotton, the union steward at the Moccasin Bend facility, which would have been ground zero for privatization. “Our water is a precious resource and so are our public employees—it’s good for Chattanooga that SEIU was able to get this stopped. We stood together, and it paid off.”

Read more about this story @ the Chattanooga Times Free Press or WRCB-TV 3.

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A Clean Sweep in Chattanooga for SEIU-Endorsed Candidates!

Thanks in part to the hard work and committment of SEIU members, all of the candidates endorsed by SEIU Local 205 won their races in the Chattanooga city council and mayor’s elections on March 5.

In the Mayor’s race, Andy Berke won with 73% of the vote against two other candidates. Berke, who was first elected to the state Senate back in 2006 (again with help from Local 205 members) takes office to succeed outgoing mayor Ron Littlefield.In the council districts, the Union’s endorsed candidates made a clean sweep after the votes were counted. In addition to Russell Gilbert and Carol Berz, who ran unopposed, Jerry Mitchell in District 2 won with 53% of vote in a three way race. Mitchell was supported by Local 205. In District 8, the Union’s endorsed candidate, Moses Freeman, easily defeated incumbent Andrae McGary by winning over 60% of the vote.

And after what appeared to be an election headed for a runoff, the Hamilton County Election Commission certified Yusuf Hakeem as the winner in District 9 over incumbent Peter Murphy.

The election victories demonstrate that when union members get involved and get committed to candidates’ campaigns, we win. Several of the winning candidates have said that they could not have won their elections without our members’ efforts. Chattanooga union members knocked on over 2,000 doors of voters and made over 1,500 calls in one month to help our candidates win their elections.

Thank you to SEIU members Steve West, Sharron Pryor, Blondel Garner, Tom Slaten, Alonzo Strickland, Devin Cotton, and Cindy Workman for campaigning on weekends and many evenings after work to make these victories possible. A special thank you goes out to our Nashville members Recco Seay, Lill Russell, Nancy Orrin, Michelle Hardy, and Sherrell Williams who volunteered their time by travelling to Chattanooga to help their SEIU brothers and sisters on the campaigns.

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VICTORY! Chattanooga I.T. Employee Ordered Back to Work!

When an employee of Chattanooga’s Information Services Department accidentally put an encrypted file with city computer passwords into a “Dropbox” account that he and one of the city’s vendors used to exchange information on a project they were working on, the employee was fired. But when the Union filed a grievance, a judge found that the city’s computer security was not compromised in any way, that the employee made an honest mistake which he felt remorse about, and that his use of a Dropbox was a fairly common industry practice that even the department’s director had used. ruled that the city’s decision to terminate the worker was unjust and that the action was “too harsh and unreasonable.” The employee was ordered back to work with back pay, seniority rights, and full benefits.

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VICTORY! Judge Orders Chattanooga City Employee Back to Work

An administrative law judge ruled that the city’s decision to terminate an 18-year employee of the City Court Clerk’s office was unjust and that the action was based on personal, not professional reasons. The employee was ordered back to work with back pay in an order rendered by administrative judge Marion Wall.

According to documents related to the case, Lillian Smith, a Court Technician, was terminated in August 2009 as the result of an audit conducted by her superior, Jan Turner, who now serves as the Interim Court Clerk for the City of Chattanooga. Smith and Turner both admitted that they have never gotten along as co-workers and that tension escalated when Turner decided to do an audit of her employees’ leave time. That audit – which would normally be done by the city’s audit divistion – was done by Turner herself and her findings indicated that Smith had made errors in her recordkeeping. Smith, who had no time to prepare for her disciplinary hearing or to analyze the errors Turner found, was unable to defend herself in the hearing and was terminated.

However, in a careful review of the alleged errors in Smith’s recordkeeping, it was discovered that Turner had overstated the number of errors. Furthermore, it was discovered that other employees were allowed to correct their recordkeeping errors during this audit, but that Smith was not given that opportunity. According to judge Wall’s order, “it seems entirely possible that Ms. Turner was out to get Ms. Smith and used the compensatory time records to do it”. As a result, the city’s decision to terminate Smith was set aside as Wall revealed that “this action was based on personal and not professional reasons.”

“Justice was served for Lillian Smith, but it is unfortunate that it took a court order to get the Administration’s attention on this,” said Doug Collier, President of the Service Employees International Union, Local 205. Local 205 represented Ms. Smith in her case. “When the Mayor refuses to work with employees or labor organizations to address issues like this, it forces employees to take the city to court. It’s unfortunate that the Administration chooses this path instead of trying to sit down and work these issues out without costing taxpayers money.”

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Union Pushes for and Wins Repeal of Chattanooga’s “10% Rule”

It was a big win for Chattanooga city employees and for fairness when the City Council amended the city’s appeals policy.

If an employee was suspended or demoted and it did not cost the employee 10% of their salary over a three year period, they would not be able to appeal their discipline past their administrator.

Now because of the work SEIU members did in educating city council members, the city has fixed this injustice. Now, all employees have the right to appeal disciplinary actions involving lost time whether they’ve lost money or not.

“This would not have happened without union members working both behind the scenes and in the public eye to point out the unfairness of the old policy,” says Nancy Nason, who works in the city’s IS department. “Getting the big problems solved is one of the reasons why we formed a union and all city employees, whether they’re members or not, should be thankful that SEIU was out fighting for their rights.”


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