Nashville Hospital Authority

ChapterLogo_HospitalAuthorityNashville General Hospital (NGH) is Nashville’s original community- based hospital.  Joint Commission accredited, NGH readily accommodates a wide range of needs from emergency services and acute care to ancillary and ambulatory services.

NGH continues to maintain its strong commitment to the healthcare needs of Nashville and Davidson County underserved, while also providing care to all segments of the community.

Nashville Hospital Authority Memorandum of Understanding (pdf)

Local 205 Vice-President Addresses Lawmakers @ First Metro Council “Public Comment” Session!

MetroCouncil_PublicComment-In the wake of a budget shortfall in Nashville and a bitter campaign by the city’s unions and community groups to get an amended budget passed, the Council began a new initiative – a “public comment” session – which permits members of the public to come before the government and speak about anything they want for two minutes.

It’s a new idea for the Metro Council, and one that SEIU took immediate advantage of. During the first night of “public comment”, Local 205’s executive vice-president, James Bradley, gave some prepared comments to the council. They touched on how he and other city employees felt about being betrayed by council members who had only a year earlier promised to fully fund a new pay plan. He also poked fun at how many council members refused to vote for a property tax adjustment (something that is a normal course of government operations in Metro) because there “wasn’t enough public input” by rattling off a list of questions that SEIU would like to have the council get input from us on over the next year while they run for re-election.

Here’s the full text of James’ comments (though he wasn’t able to complete them because time ran out):

“Good evening, members of the council. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you this evening. My name is James Bradley and I serve as the executive vice-president of SEIU Local 205. My organization represents the men and women who work for so many of our public agencies including General Government departments, the Hospital Authority, Metro Action Commission, and we represent the support employees in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

First of all, on behalf of the thousands of city employees SEIU represents, I want to thank the 19 members of the council who voted in favor of Councilman Mendes’ budget two weeks ago. We appreciate your integrity and courage and we will not forget your support for us.

Having said that, we will also not forget the 20 council members who voted against us.

You are the people I would like to direct my public comments to this evening.

Two weeks ago when you voted on the budget, we heard your speeches about how there wasn’t enough “public input” on correcting the property tax rate. Every member of this council knows full well that correcting the tax rate has never had “public input” but if we have to have more “public input” on something that you all know is necessary for the city to do, let’s start with a couple of questions to get that ball rolling:

First, how do we explain to city employees who already took cuts to their pay and raises for four years that they have to do it again while we’re in a boom? I was one of the people whose taxes went up and then didn’t get a cost of living raise. I don’t mind paying my fair share, but when do these private developers start paying theirs?

Second, how do we explain that we couldn’t find the political will to fully fund our schools but we can find it to keep giving more TIF and PILOT deals to developers and corporations? Or for a water park at Opryland that only Opryland guests can use?

How do you justify asking Metro department heads to begin preparing budget reductions for next year when you are literally getting ready to vote tonight on another tax increment financing deal?

There’s a whole host of other questions too. Like where is the accountability on these TIF and PILOT deals? Which Metro department or office is tracking whether these companies are creating all the jobs they say they are? Is privatization saving us money or costing us more while quality goes down?

Hopefully, addressing these questions over the next year while many of you are campaigning will help educate and enlighten our teachers, firefighters, police officers, bus drivers, and General Government employees who live and vote in Davidson County.

We will be watching and trust me… we will be giving you and your political opponents our “public input” in 2019. I appreciate your time and again… thanks to those of you who voted for what was right, not for what was easy.”

Who Voted FOR Us on the Mendes budget?

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

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Crisis Averted (For Now) at Nashville General Hospital Thanks to Activism & Solidarity!

Union leaders confront Mayor Megan Barry after the surprise announcement from Meharry & HCA that could lead to cuts in jobs and patient services at General Hospital.

Union leaders confront Mayor Megan Barry after the surprise announcement from Meharry & HCA that could lead to cuts in jobs and patient services at General Hospital.

After SEIU members and community allies waged a grassroots campaign, Mayor Megan Barry finally agreed to a “reset” on her original plan to end inpatient services at Nashville General Hospital.

Barry’s pivot came after a surprise announcement on November 9 to restructure the hospital was revealed to the public during a press conference announcing a new partnership between Meharry and HCA. The Mayor’s proposal was short on specifics and contained inaccurate statistics about hospital beds, usage, and other metrics which caused a panic among hospital staff, patients, clergy and vendors.

Elected officials, hospital administrators, and healthcare advocates were completely caught off-guard by Barry’s announcement and had many of the mayor’s own supporters scratching their heads in confusion. In a discussion held at the Metro Council, the mayor’s chief financial officer and legal counsel both admitted they knew nothing about the proposal until shortly before it was made public.

SEIU members didn’t take the news lying down. Almost immediately, the union sprung into action as members spoke up at the Hospital Authority board meeting, turned out in droves to an emergency Metro Council meeting, wrote letters, called their council members, and engaged their churches, neighbors, and patients.

“If we as a union hadn’t pulled together and if we hadn’t worked together with our partners in the community, I honestly think that most of us would be out of jobs,” said Michael Foster, a service tech at General and SEIU member.

The union’s action, with help from our allies across the community, helped get the word out that the mayor’s proposal could threaten tens of millions in funding to the state’s safety net hospitals. It was also revealed that the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office would have to add another $3 million in its budget to pay for the changes the mayor was seeking since DCSO provides transportation and security for inmates who are served at General.

“We couldn’t have stopped this train as individuals. We needed to lock arms, stand together, work with our partners, and fight back,” said Myra Franklin, a registered nurse in General’s NICU.

The overall plan to create some kind of change at General Hospital is still in effect, though the mayor has conceded that it is ultimately the role of the Metro Council to implement any major changes at General after two councilmembers from opposite sides of the political spectrum announced a new ordinance that would prevent the mayor from acting unilaterally.

A proposed timeline by the mayor would now give her until December, 2018 to hear recommendations on “how we can come together as a community around a working model for the future”. The legislation in front of the Metro Council would extend the deadline to June, 2019 before any major decisions are made. There will be a new format in place engaging stakeholders to determine the future recommendations for General Hospital.

“This fight isn’t over yet and we’re going to need to keep doing this until the city gets the message once and for all: General Hospital needs to stay a safety net hospital and we’re going to do whatever it takes to keep it that way,” said Osa Richards, a registered nurse.

For all the latest news and updates on the struggle at Nashville General Hospital, join the “Save NGH” Facebook group or bookmark the “Save Nashville General” campaign website and sign their petition.

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General Hospital Under Fire in Nashville!

NGH-campusLess than 48 hours after Nashville’s Metro Council passed a bill to fund a new professional soccer stadium to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, Mayor Megan Barry announced in a press conference that Nashville General Hospital would be moving to a new model of care that did not include inpatient services. The announcement caught elected officials, hospital administrators, SEIU, and even the mayor’s own staff by surprise. Local print and broadcast media reported for nearly a week on how local workers, politicians, and healthcare professionals felt blindsided by the mayor’s office, how the announcement has led to a staffing crisis, and how the administration has only produced questions and no answers about why such a radical change is necessary. General is becoming more efficient and actually generates revenue for the city.

Several days later, at a meeting of the Hospital Authority, tensions ramped up as hundreds of SEIU members, clergy, patients, and allies of the hospital packed the board room. SEIU’s chief steward at the hospital, Vanessa Robertson-Sanders, presented over 500 petition signatures to the board as she and other members spoke passionately in defense of keeping General intact as a safety-net hospital so that it can continue to fulfill its mission. Media reports revealed that later that night, after the board went into a closed “executive session,” one of the mayor’s appointees to the board resigned and the mayor herself issued a letter of apology about the manner in which her own announcement was handled. She did not, however, indicate that she was willing to change her mind about downsizing General Hospital.

After hearing the public outcry, the Metro Council called a meeting to ask questions from the community about what a shakeup at General would mean. SEIU was one of four stakeholders invited to present information to the council. Dozens of union members turned out and helped fill the council chamber to capacity while photos of hospital staff who could face layoffs played in the background. Others, including the hospital’s CEO Dr. Joseph Webb and sheriff Daron Hall made comments that shocked council members. For one, the sheriff’s office would need to add around $3 million in their budget to handle inmate care. But the biggest surprise was that the proposed overhaul would likely remove General’s designation as a “safety net hospital”, which means that the state of Tennessee could lose approximately $50 million in federal funding (as well as an additional $20 million from the Feds to administer TennCare) that goes to provide indigent care. The mayor’s proposal for an “indigent care fund” which she says would be distributed to other area hospitals to cover uncompensated care would not even come close to covering the new patients that those facilities would see come through their doors if General downsized.

While the mayor’s office has reached out to SEIU for discussions, our message has been consistent: We must keep General Hospital a hospital. General needs to be given adequate time to implement its plan to continue in-patient services and continue as a safety net hospital.

The stakes here aren’t just the hundreds of SEIU members and their families whose livelihood could be affected. The entire Nashville community would be negatively impacted, as would the rest of Tennessee’s safety-net hospitals in Memphis, Chattanooga, Jackson, and other parts of the state.

For all the latest news and updates on the struggle at Nashville General Hospital, join the “Save NGH” Facebook group or bookmark the “Save Nashville General” campaign website and sign their petition.

 

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Surprise Announcement Leads to Uncertain Future for Nashville General Hospital!

Union leaders confront Mayor Megan Barry after the surprise announcement from Meharry & HCA that could lead to cuts in jobs and patient services at General Hospital.

Union leaders confront Mayor Megan Barry after the surprise announcement from Meharry & HCA that could lead to cuts in jobs and patient services at General Hospital.

With no warning to SEIU, to council members, or to hospital officials, Meharry and HCA executives along with Mayor Megan Barry announced a plan right before Veterans Day weekend which will have a major impact on General Hospital staff and the services the hospital provides to patients in the Nashville community.

According to various news reports, Meharry Medical College, which has been a long time partner with General, will begin a new merger with Southern Hills hospital, which will lead to phasing out General’s inpatient services. This move will affect not just jobs at General Hospital, but also indigent care for many of Nashville’s most economically disadvantaged citizens.

The Tennessean, Nashville Public Radio, and NewsChannel 5 have coverage of the press conference, but there are still some major questions that remain. These questions will continue to be asked by SEIU and our partners in the community and elected officials.

SEIU Local 205 has issued the following statement to all General Hospital employees:

“Our Union will be meeting shortly with the Barry administration to get more details on what their plans are and what they think the future of General looks like. We will be educating and organizing our partners in the community and in politics to gather allies to make sure our jobs and services are protected. We encourage all staff to stay calm, to talk to your Union Steward to get news updates, and do not make any drastic moves towards your career until we have more information. Also, TALK to your family, friends, co-workers, and preachers about how important General is to us and the community we serve.”

For more information, follow Local 205’s Facebook page or contact the Union office at 615-227-5070.

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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

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Local 205 Is Winning for Healthcare Workers in Nashville!

After helping in the effort to secure emergency funding for Nashville General Hospital, SEIU Local 205 has also been successful helping hospital workers on the job.

Here’s just a few important victories that have happened at General in the first quarter of 2016:

  • The Union helped an underpaid employee get a $2/hr. raise.
  • The Union helped a member who was laid off get put back to work.
  • When a member was unfairly put on unpaid administrative leave, the Union got them their money back.

Stay tuned for more updates on improvements for healthcare workers at Nashville General Hospital.

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Council Approves Emergency Funding for General Hospital

Thanks to efforts by SEIU members and other community groups, the Metro Council unanimously approved an emergency request for funding at General Hospital in Nashville.

Nashville’s safety net hospital continues to struggle as its core mission is to provide care to many patients who are uninsured or underinsured. According to a story by Nashville Public Radio

…[General Hospital has] a shortfall because of some surprises. Those include getting dinged by Joint Commission inspectors on patient safety and infection control — problems that have demanded spending to get fixes in motion.

They also want to continue with technology changes and creation of an outpatient pharmacy. Combined, several hospital maneuvers have reduced the daily cost of treating a patient 11 percent between 2014 and 2016, according to the hospital.

But they’re still struggling to pay bills on time to vendors, lagging behind industry standards.

And at one point this summer, the hospital had about two days’ worth of operating cash on hand, making it tough to even pay its employees.

Union officials and members were active behind the scenes and reached out to share their concerns with elected officials throughout the funding situation. SEIU will continue to work with hospital and city officials to find constructive ways to strengthen funding at General in order to protect employee pay and patient care.

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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!

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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.

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