Metro Public Health Department

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly with the Metro Budget

MetroGovt-sealThis has been one of the most contentious budget seasons in years due to a revenue shortfall, political upheaval in the mayor’s office, and chickens coming home to roost on bad economic policies made by short-sighted politicians over the last decade. SEIU has led the way in fighting for public employees as our members have reached out to their council members by email, phone, and in person. Here’s the good news and the bad news about what happened this year and a look at what lies ahead:

THE GOOD: New Raises Go Through + Stability In Employee Benefits

Several improvements did happen for Nashville’s public employees as a result of SEIU members’ hard work and the support of our allies, including —

  1. Metro employees who are eligible for step raises will still get them.
  2. In the schools, paraprofessionals will receive an upgrade/pay increase.
  3. Thanks to our allies on the benefit board, there is no increase in insurance costs to employees this year.
  4. Employees at Nashville General Hospital will receive a raise.
  5. Despite efforts from Councilman Glover to get rid of the paid family leave benefit, this remains intact.

THE BAD: The Mendes Budget Fails

As you know, Mayor Briley’s budget broke the existing pay plan and did not include the promised cost of living adjustments for this year or next year. It forced MNPS to cut $17 million from this year’s school budget and kept MNPS employees from getting any raise at all. Mayor Briley blamed the budget problems on an unexpected revenue shortfall. The shortfall was caused by Mayor Barry’s administration allowing the property tax rate to drop last year to the lowest rate in the history of Metro government.

For the past month, members of Local 205 have worked extremely hard to pass a substitute budget through the Metro Council that would honor the commitments made last year, and fully fund the MNPS budget. Councilman Bob Mendes proposed a budget that would have fixed the revenue shortfall by restoring the property tax rate to a historically normal level.

We fought hard and came within two votes of saving the cost of living increases and getting MNPS the money needed to fund employee raises.  In the end, 19 Members of the Metro Council stood with us, speaking loudly and clearly that the commitments they made should have been honored.

Below you can see how every member of Metro Council voted. We urge you to thank the members who stood with us:

YES:  Sharon Hurt, Brenda Haywood, Brett Withers, Bill Pridemore, Burkley Allen, Ed Kindall, Fabian Bedne, Erica Gilmore, Anthony Davis, Doug Pardue, Mina Johnson, Karen Johnson, Jacobia Dowell, Colby Sledge, Bob Mendes, DeCosta Hastings, Kathleen Murphy, Jason Potts, Antoinette Lee.

NO:  John Cooper, Steve Glover, Robert Swope, Jeff Syracuse, Russ Pulley, Tanaka Vercher, Angie Henderson, Scott Davis, Holly Huezo, Mike Freeman, Freddie O’Connell, Jeremy Elrod, Dave Rosenberg, Larry Hagar, Kevin Rhoten, Mary Carolyn Roberts, Davette Blalock, Nancy VanReece, Jim Shulman, Sheri Weiner

THE UGLY: We Will Have This Fight Again Next Year

Unfortunately, because the city did not adjust the property tax rate last year or this year, we will see another massive budget shortfall next year, regardless of the city’s growth. Since most of the council members have to run for re-election in 2019, it is difficult to imagine them voting to correct the property tax rate while they are campaigning. The city will also face approximately $125-$150 million in payments on the debt service to the Music City Center (which SEIU opposed).

While we will be working hard over the next year to push major reforms to prevent this from happening, our well-funded opponents from the business sector are also going to do whatever they can to keep your tax dollars flowing into their bank accounts through corporate welfare policies that only benefit them. We expect to be back at this again next spring, but here’s a few things we can do right now to strengthen our hand:

  1. Hold the council members who voted against us accountable – most are up for re-election next year.
  2. Become more active with the union in your workplace. That means recruiting more members and communicating our issues to your co-workers.
  3. Contribute to our political fund, COPE, which will help us elect better politicians next year.

To Learn More About the Outcome of this Year’s Metro Budget:

SEIU Comments on the Council Vote (Newschannel 5)

Article on the Budget Vote (The Tennessean)

Comments Off on The Good, the Bad & the Ugly with the Metro Budget

Metro Government Employees Win Raises, New Pay Plan, & New Benefits!

IMG_2728.JPGSEIU members from dozens of city departments filled the seats during the Metro Council’s Public Hearing on the city budget to make the case that public services and the people who provide them are vital to Nashville’s future.

“Having growth means nothing if regular folks can’t afford to raise a family and take part in the American Dream,” said union steward Tyrone Jolley. “Those are the priorities we need to keep focused on.”

Despite some controversy over the budget request for Nashville General Hospital, the Council voted overwhelmingly to pass the operating budget, pay plan, and other ordinances related to employees that Local 205 supported.

 

2017-2018 Budget Highlights:
METRO GOVERMENT Employees
  • 2% cost of living raise
  • Maintain step raises (2% for those eligible)
  • Shift differential increase (70¢/hr for evening shift, 80¢/hr for night shift)
  • Fund open-range raises
  • Three -year pay plan (2%, 3%, 3%).
  • Longevity pay distributed earlier (Nov. 15)
  • No cuts to department budgets, several new programs implemented

Comments Off on Metro Government Employees Win Raises, New Pay Plan, & New Benefits!

Local 205 Endorses Edna Jones for Metro Benefit Board Election on 5/25!

SEIU_for_EdnaJones_promo201SEIU Local 205 is proud to endorse Edna Jones for re-election to the Metro Employee Benefit Board!

Edna, a Metro employee for over 32 years, has served as a General Government representative on the Metro Employee Benefit Board since 2005 and as chairperson of the Board since 2009. She remains committed to promoting the best interests of all Metro employees and will continue to work to insure the best benefits and pension plans are provided. Edna believes experience matters and uses her experience to understand and connect with all Metro Government employees.  She will make no idle promises which cannot be kept but will always be available to answer questions from all employees and research to find the correct answer if it is not readily available.

The Benefit Board election will be conducted by machine vote on Thursday, May 25, 2017. Hours vary by location so see the chart below. Employees will only need a photo ID in order to vote – a paycheck stub is no longer required. This election is only open to current, non-retired Metro Government employees (excluding Police and Fire employees) who are enrolled in at least one Metro Benefit plan (note: Hospital Authority employees are eligible to vote if they were hired before November 2010). 

 Location Time
Ben West Building: Lobby
100 James Robertson Parkway
8:00-4:30
Lentz Public Health Center: Centennial Room C
2500 Charlotte Ave.
8:00-4:30
Lindsley Hall: Entrance Lobby
730 2nd Ave. South
8:00-4:30
Metro Southeast: Break Room
1417 Murfreesboro Pike (Genesco Park)
8:00-4:30
Public Works: Roll Call Room (Operations Bldg)
740 South 5th Street
7:00-4:00
Water Services: 2nd floor Training Rm (Admin. Bldg)
1600 2nd Ave. North
7:00-4:00

Comments Off on Local 205 Endorses Edna Jones for Metro Benefit Board Election on 5/25!

Metro Health Department Restores Stepped Pay Plan!

The Board of Health discusses a presentation from SEIU members about the Health Department's work rules and pay plan.

The Board of Health discusses a presentation from SEIU members about the Health Department’s work rules and pay plan.

At their March meeting, the Board of Health adopted a new pay structure that restores hundreds of Health Department employees into a stepped pay plan and removes them from “open range” classifications!

SEIU has made no secret of opposing open range structures in Metro and we included that in the Union’s presentation to the Board of Health. Many of the Health Department employees who will have their steps restored will also see pay increases under this new plan.

Despite claims to the contrary, research shows that open range/merit pay structures do not improve performance for public sector employees and often do serious damage to morale. In recent years in Metro Government, open range plans have not been well-funded and the processes the city uses to determine who gets what is vague and inconsistent. And in the private sector, open range/merit pay structures (which are used nearly universally in the U.S.) have frequently been used to play favorites or to discriminate against women and minorities.

A struggle against open range in Metro Government is going on as Nashville Public Library employees push back to stop an expansion of open range classifications in their department.

Comments Off on Metro Health Department Restores Stepped Pay Plan!

Solidarity Stops Controversial Changes to Health Department Work Rules!

SEIU members rally to support employee rights and quality public services at the Metro Health Department in Nashville.

SEIU members rally to support employee rights and quality public services at the Metro Health Department in Nashville.

Workers from across the Metro Public Health Department came together to stop controversial changes to the department’s Civil Service Rules which would have weakened employees’ rights and impacted service to the public in Nashville.

When the Board announced that it was considering making changes to the Civil Service Rules, SEIU members formed a committee and members developed their own proposals which were submitted to Management. While some of these initial proposals were adopted, administrators then submitted a series of controversial changes which would have a major impact on Metro employees’ rights. Union members pushed back against management’s controversial proposals by turning out in large numbers to board meetings, including a public hearing. Union members had already submitted their own suggestions for rule changes and they then developed a Powerpoint presentation which SEIU proposed to the Board of Health at the public hearing. SEIU’s recommendations had a major impact on the Board’s deliberations and the union also presented the board with petitions signed by dozens of Health Department employees across all divisions and worksites.

“I am so proud that my co-workers were active throughout this entire process,” said Mia Jackson, a program specialist. “We met off the clock on our own time to go through the entire Civil Service rule book, we researched what the administration was proposing and we even submitted our own proposals.”

“I think what really swayed the Board of Health was the participation by employees and the huge turnout the Union organized for the board meetings,” said Thereasa Howse, a program supervisor. “I have worked for this department for over 20 years and I have never seen staff so engaged in what the department was up to. I truly believe that we were effective because of our strength in numbers and our attention to detail.”

Leave a comment

The Effort to Gut Metro Employee Benefits Fails!

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.

After a nearly two-year struggle, we are happy to report that the Metro Employee Benefit Board has rejected any cuts to the pension or retiree health benefits for Metro employees!

At their meeting on Oct. 6, the Benefit Board weighed the proposal from Mayor Dean’s Study and Formulating Committee as well as the input from SEIU and decided that it was unfair for firefighters and police to be allowed to keep their medical coverage upon reaching Medicare eligibility while the rest of the city’s employees would be cut off from health insurance when they retired. The Benefit Board voted against the Study Committee’s recommendation, despite a major P.R. push by the Mayor and his allies to convince the public of a “crisis” in unfunded liability for employee benefits which SEIU debunked.

Unless the new mayor or Metro Council decides to revisit this issue, major changes to employee benefits are now effectively dead. You’ll remember that SEIU was able to get any cuts to the employee pension stopped over the summer by an aggressive campaign against the Pew group and the Dean Administration. That victory was only possible because our members turned out and they were vocal about protecting the benefits they earned.

Meanwhile, the Benefit Board did vote in favor of a new lump-sum payout option that the union supports. There are pros and cons to this new option, but the important thing is that the final decision about whether to use it is up to the employee and it is not mandatory. We urge city employees to get more information about this benefit as details are rolled out – assuming it gets approved by the Metro Council.

Thank you to our members who turned out to meetings and talked to their elected officials about these issues and helped secure a major victory. Please tell your non-union co-workers that the reason their benefits are secure is because your Union fought hard to protect them!

Leave a comment

Health Department Workers Rally to Protect Work Rules and Jobs!

SEIU members rally to support employee rights and quality public services at the Metro Health Department in Nashville.

SEIU members rally to support employee rights and quality public services at the Metro Health Department in Nashville.

It was literally standing room only when SEIU members and other staff packed a public hearing about work rules for employees of the Metro Public Health Department in Nashville.

Dozens of public health workers including disease investigators, nurses, and clerks were in attendance to support a presentation by Local 205 which analyzed a management proposal which could put promotions, jobs and quality services at risk.

“I’ve worked for the Health department for 27 years and what the administration is proposing with some of these civil service rule changes is pretty radical,” said Mattie Greer, a public health nurse at the East clinic. Administrators proposed a new rule which would eventually make all grant-funded positions in the department (approximately 60% of the workforce) ineligible for rehire, severance pay, recall rights, and appeals.

SEIU’s presentation, which was developed by a committee of Health Department union members, supported some of the proposed rule changes but were strongly opposed to management’s proposal to cut employee civil service rights. The union opposed other management proposals related to bereavement leave, overtime pay, complaint procedures and disciplinary appeal rights.

One unusual proposal by management would require MPHD staff to disclose if they serve on the board of any other organization – even if they were unpaid volunteers. “If I am on the board at my church or an officer of the PTO or a volunteer at Planned Parenthood, I would have to tell my employer about it or I could be asked to resign,” said Mia Jackson, a Program Specialist. “That seems a little bit of an overreach and intrusive for a department that is supposed to respect individuals’ privacy.”

SEIU hasn’t just been in opposition to management proposals – they’ve tried to be part of the solution. For nearly a year, union members have been developing rule proposals of their own and several of those were accepted. The need for more employee input has been evident at the MPHD, which has been at the center of various media controversies over the last three years. Exit interviews by Health Department employees have been scathing and there have been several recent major shakeups in the upper-level management team.

“With all the turnover at the Health Department and with good people being passed over for promotions, there needs to be some soul-searching about what’s working and not working,” said Mark Naccarato, an SEIU organizer who presented the employee presentation at the public hearing. “While some of the rule changes management is proposing are progressive and attempt to solve legitimate problems, several of their ideas like the one that takes away civil service rights for staff on recurring grants are really just a case of management trying to make the rank and file pay for the mistakes they’ve made.”

The presentation by SEIU lasted about 20 minutes, at which point the department’s director, Dr. Bill Paul, tried to respond to SEIU’s concerns. The board members asked some follow-up questions and prompted a good discussion centered around employees’ rights and the changing nature of grant-funded public services.

The Board of Health did not vote on any proposals at the public hearing and plans to continue the discussion on the proposed rule changes at their next regularly-scheduled meeting in mid-September.

** READ SEIU’s PRESENTATION to the Board of Health! **

Comments Off on Health Department Workers Rally to Protect Work Rules and Jobs!

Union Wins Grievance, Health Department Member Gets Out-Of-Class Pay!

“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Richard Smiley, who works in one of the Health Department clinics. Richard was trying to help out his section and his co-workers by agreeing to serve as an interim supervisor while the department recruited a permanent replacement. The Civil Service Rules for the Health Department say that if someone is assigned duties that are above and beyond their job classification, they are to receive out-of-class pay. Well, Richard did not get his out-of-class pay.

When he spoke with administrators about it, they essentially ignored him, saying that since he wasn’t a nurse, he wasn’t qualified to do the supervisor job (even though they’d been letting him work that position for over two months!) To Richard, this was a ridiculous argument, but he was more frustrated about being ignored. So he contacted SEIU. The union filed a grievance, an investigation was done, and Richard won—just in time to have some extra money in his check before Christmas. This was the second grievance in six months that SEIU has won against the Health Department.

 

Leave a comment

SEIU Protects Employee Privacy, Brings Halt to Fingerprinting & Biometric Data Gathering

As Metro Government began the transition to recording time and attendance with the Kronos timekeeping system, workers wondered why they were being asked to give their thumbprints to clock in and out. After all, there were already several other useful methods for clocking in including time cards, ID badges, using a computer, or by being counted in a roll call or by a supervisor signing them in.

A Union committee, which included the Local’s attorney and organizer as well as the Metro Chief Steward and a Bargaining Committee member, met with HR officials to discuss the situation and submitted a list of questions about the Kronos system, personal privacy, liability issues, and why the need for fingerprinting non-public safety employees was necessary when there were already effective timekeeping methods that would work.

A week later, Metro HR announced that they would immediately stop gathering biometric data on employees and that all fingerprint data that had been collected so far would be destroyed.

“I am so glad that Metro worked with us on this,” said Julie Burns, a librarian at the Nashville Public Library who also serves on the Union’s bargaining committee. “This was causing a lot of stress for some of my co-workers, especially when there was never a need for people to have to do this just to clock in and out of work.”

Kronos will still be a part of Metro’s system, but there will be no more fingerprinting involved.

 

Leave a comment

Fact Check: SEIU Responds to Pew Presentation on Pension & Retiree Medical Benefits

David Draine presents Pews findings to the Study & Formulating Committee in Nashville.

David Draine presents Pew’s findings to the Study & Formulating Committee in Nashville.

On a Friday afternoon, while city employees were still at work and unable to attend, the Study & Formulating Committee met to hear a presentation from Pew Charitable Trusts about the pension and health benefits of Metro employees. And as usual, the committee chair carefully chose questions that fits with the adminstration’s narrative which wrongfully suggests that there is some kind of funding or solvency crisis because of employee benefits that requires “reform”.

Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels, a Dean booster who fretted back in November that the committee might not get to finish its work (even though their work was technically completed back in late summer when they delivered their recommendations on a domestic partner benefit), was contacted by SEIU after the committee met with information that was not brought up or was misrepresented by administration and Pew officials. Here is the statement that SEIU’s Mark Naccarato sent to The Tennessean’s Frank Daniels, which as you can tell by the column Daniels wrote, was largely ignored:

With respect to the $2.4B unfunded liability from medical costs that Pew talked about and which The Tennessean reported on in September, here is some important context missing yesterday:

  • Virtually all cities and states have unfunded liabilities for retiree health care benefits. Unfunded liabilities of this type do not affect a municipality’s credit rating since they ordinarily operate on a “pay as you go” basis. By failing to place these liabilities in context, the committee and Pew are creating  a manufactured crisis over “the Big Scary Number” of unfunded medical liability costs (in this case, it’s $2.4 billion). The truth is that worrying over an unfunded liability for medical costs is no different than panicking because you have a mortgage on your house. If you pay your mortgage every month as you go and don’t miss payments, you are fine. You would only be in a financial crisis if suddenly the bank asked you to pay the entire balance of your mortgage at once with cash. That’s the same thing with unfunded medical liability costs – they are only a concern if for some reason, the entire city workforce retired or got a serious illness at the same time. This is a statistical impossibility, so again, the Big Scary Number is in fact, not so scary.
  • Mr. Riebeling did not address the fact that, in the last two years, Metro employee health insurance premiums have not gone up. This is due to several factors, including the Affordable Care Act, but it is worth asking Mr. Riebeling and Mr. Shmerling: If health care costs are so explosive and are such a large concern, then why have employee premiums decreased over the last two years? The fact that this important positive trend was ignored yesterday reinforces our belief that there is a political agenda, not a policy agenda, at work. Also indicative of a political agenda: this is the third “study” of employee benefits in five years, all during the Dean Administration.
  • It is also worth noting that retiree health care benefits don’t enjoy the same legal protections that say, pension benefits do, so future governments do have the ability to adjust them than they do accrued pension benefits. Having said that, we have to come back to the notion that the Big Scary Number – unfunded medical liability – is not expected to affect the long-term fiscal health or credit rating of the city in and of itself.

With regards to the pension, it seems that there is a concerted effort to try to persuade the public and legislators that any changes to the current Defined Benefit (“DB”) pension plan would only affect new employees. This is not the case and when Mr. Draine from Pew was asked about this yesterday, he dodged the question. If the city creates a separate system and puts its new employees into a Defined Contribution (“DC”) plan or a hybrid plan (similar to the State of Tennessee’s), several things will happen:

  • Paying benefits of current employees in the DB pension plan will become more expensive as a result of what pension actuaries call “transition costs.” Without new young members (and their contributions) coming into the existing pension fund, the pension plan would have only older and retired workers in it. Over time, the investment horizon of the plan managers would shrink and more assets would have to be in liquid form, ready to convert into pension checks. These shifts would lower investment returns and require more taxpayer contributions to meet pension obligations. This raises a serious concern in the future that employees who have retired or close to retirement would have their pension checks cut.
  • The switch to a DC plan would mean higher fees (charged by investment firms who manage DC savings plan options) than with a DB pension pool and lower investment returns. There is a large research literature (e.g., by Towers Watson) on the great cost effectiveness of DB plans. The National Institute on Retirement Security estimated in a  2014 study that DC plans cost nearly twice in contributions to achieve the same retirement benefit.
  • The city is about halfway through a comprehensive pay study and what they already know is that retirement and health benefits – especially the DB pension plan – are the primary attractor for (and retainer of) talent in Metro. If Metro stops offering a DB plan, what is it going to do to keep attracting talent? Especially now that the economy is improving and workers have more job options? Will the city have to increase pay to offset its cut to benefits? How do you explain to someone who’s been working for Metro for 30 years that the new employee who just got hired is making more money than they are? Despite the politically expedient comments offered up yesterday, cutting the DB plan or changing to a hybrid or a DC plan will absolutely affect recruiting and employee morale in a negative way. This has already happened in cities and states where they have closed DB plans for new employees and it will happen here as well.

All of the topics I just mentioned above about the pension plan were discussed at the last meeting of the Study & Formulating Committee in September which you were not at. I can assure you that everyone in the room – including Pew and the city’s actuaries at BPSM – all agreed that putting new hires into a new plan gives the city the same or increased costs and less security. At the last meeting, the tone of the committee and everyone else involved was basically that changing the DB plan (even for future employees) was a non-starter. Which is why all of us were shocked yesterday when Mr. Shmerling brought this up again and seemed to act as if all of that discussion never happened.

I’m not sure if Mr. Riebeling or Mr. Shmerling have made you aware of this, but Nashville’s pension fund is well-funded and in 2013 it had nearly 19% ROI which puts it in the top five pension plans in the U.S. of all cities and states. Some of that has to do with getting out from under the losses that everyone took during the Great Recession, some of it has to do with savvy investment decisions by Metro, and some of it has to do with the minor changes that the unions agreed to that were proposed by the last Study & Formulating Committee. The point is… why would you want to fix something that isn’t broken? Even Mr. Draine agreed (both yesterday and at the last committee meeting in September) that the city’s pension plan was not a major cause for concern from a cost or sustainability perspective. His charts and graphs showed as much yesterday. Again, we see a political motive here, not a case that can be justified from a financial or policy standpoint.

We are very concerned that the state of the city’s benefit system is being portrayed as being in some of kind of crisis situation when it is anything but. There are ideologues – including John Arnold, who is funding Pew’s work – who have an interest in seeing public employee benefits weakened. There are several motives for this, one of which is that it is in the interests of private employers to see benefits diluted so that businesses are not forced to keep up to attract talent. Metro is the county’s second largest employer and if their benefit package is less enticing, then there is no reason for say, HCA or Vanderbilt to keep theirs as competitive – that’s money in the bank for them.  And I think you know by now since SEIU has already talked to Tennessean reporters about this that this “review” by Pew isn’t specific to Nashville. Thanks to funding by Mr. Arnold, Pew has a whole division that is barnstorming the country giving reports to cities and states just like what we heard yesterday.

We believe that this is a campaign to scare taxpayers into thinking that public employee benefits are unsustainable and that there has to be a change. In Nashville, we see little to no justification for “fixing” employee benefits, though we do see a financial motive (access to new capital for risk-prone investors) a business motive (diluting the benefits of a large city workforce benefits private companies’ bottom line), and a political motive (weakening benefits weakens the bargaining position of the labor unions and employee associations who represents the workers) to “reform” the benefit package. Simply put, there is no objective reason to accept these proposals from Pew. Now, there is a whole other discussion to be had about Nashville’s fiscal health over the coming decades as a result of the fiscal policies of the Dean Administration, but we strongly believe – and I think most people would if they had all the facts – that working families should not have to pay for irresponsible spending decisions made by politicians. Especially when those decisions have resulted in nearly $1 billion in tax breaks and subsidies being handed out to corporations that are already located in Nashville and who are making big profits.

Keep in mind too that most of the “reforms” that were suggested yesterday would only affect General Government employees, not public safety employees. You should know if you don’t already that General Government workers don’t make as much money overall as public safety employees and they are made up of more minority workers as well. What kind of message does it send to the community that the city is considering cuts (and yes, we are talking about cuts here – not improvements) to the benefits of a workforce which is lower-paid and has a higher percentage of minorities?

Mr. Daniels, when we read your column about this topic back in November, it seemed as if you were only getting one side of the story on this discussion. I know you are on deadline to try and write a column, but at some point, we really would like to have a conversation to go deeper on these issues as the stakes are high for thousands of hard-working city employees and their families, not to mention the citizens who expect high-quality services.

Leave a comment