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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 will be looking out for our MEMBERS first. Employees who have shown a commitment to sticking together and building a union are going to be the ones we fight hardest for. 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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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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SEIU Takes Action to Protect Jobs & Quality Care at Nashville Nursing Homes

Union members working at Bordeaux Long Term Care are sticking together as they face a transition to a private sector employer.

Union members working at Bordeaux Long Term Care are sticking together as they face a transition to a private sector employer.

After weeks of meetings between Local 205, Metro officials, and executives at three different private companies, agreements were made to protect the job security and employee rights of hundreds of healthcare workers at the Bordeaux Long Term Care facility and the Knowles Home for Assisted Living in Nashville.

The agreements came out of a new deal that Metro Government brokered with Signature Healthcare, Ed Street Company, and Autumn Assisted Living Partners to transition long term care services away from government to the private sector, a trend that has been happening nationwide for decades. Of all the major metropolitan areas in Tennessee, only Nashville still operates nursing homes. Under the deal, which was approved by the Metro Council in March with SEIU’s support, Signature will manage and operate the Bordeaux Long Term Care facility while Autumn will operate Knowles.

SEIU was able to negotiate a “memoranda of agreement” with Signature Healthcare to ensure that workers and patients at Bordeaux were protected in the transition and that they continued to have a voice through their union.

“Having this kind of an agreement with a private sector company is very rare and a big win for our members,” said Brad Rayson, Local 205’s representative who helped bargain the various agreements. “Even though the facilities changed from government hands to private operators, we were able to keep salaries and benefits consistent with what workers had as Metro employees, we protected folks pensions who were near retirement, and we protected jobs.” An estimated 90% of current Bordeaux employees will be offered jobs with Signature while the remaining staff will be offered either another job within Metro or a severance package to help while they find new employment. Signature will assume management of the BLTC facility on May 1, 2014.

SEIU also negotiated that Signature recognize the union as the employees’ bargaining representatives as well as the attendant rights and responsibilities that come with union recognition. “We get to keep our union and our seat at the table,” said Berry Woods, a phlebotomist at Bordeaux. “Everything is negotiable, but that is not. We are glad to remain a union shop so we can continue to fight for the best care for our patients.”

Meanwhile, at Knowles Home, all current employees will be offered their jobs and they will also be entitled to the severance package. Autumn will officially assume management of Knowles on July 1, 2014.

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Major Changes Coming to Public Healthcare Facilities in Nashville

As reported in The Tennessean, Mayor Karl Dean announced plans regarding future operations of Bordeaux nursing home and the Knowles assisted living facility in Nashville.

Local 205 is in discussions with Metro officials and the owners of the private companies to ensure that jobs, workers rights, and patient care are not put at risk. More information on this as it develops.

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Member Spotlight: Vanessa Robertson

Vanessa Robertson: Labor & Delivery Technician @ Nashville General Hospital.

Vanessa Robertson: Labor & Delivery Technician @ Nashville General Hospital.

When Vanessa Robertson reports to work every day at Metro General Hospital in Nashville, she isn’t just showing up so she can collect a paycheck. “A job is somewhere you show up every day so that you can have money to pay your bills,” Vanessa says. “This is more than just a job to me. I see it as my ministry. After all, Jesus took care of the sick and the poor and I can do a lot worse than to follow His example.”

Vanessa is a labor and delivery technician at Nashville’s safety net hospital, Metro General at Meharry. She assists doctors and nurses with OB/GYN patients and helps to bring new life into the world every day. It’s this sense of compassion and hope that led Vanessa to SEIU Local 205. She joined the union back in 1994 when she came to General and even though she’s a working mom, she still finds the time to be active in the Union. Vanessa has served as a shop steward since 2000 and has been on the union’s Bargaining Committee since 2003. “I want to be part of an organization that respects the voices of employees and helps them to get the dignity, respect, and justice they deserve at work,” Vanessa says.

As budgets in Washington and here in Tennessee continue to shrink, Vanessa often worries about what will happen to General, which relies heavily on subsidies—but not just because it will affect her own life. “We are so important to the community and we help so many people who can’t afford health insurance and treatment—I pray that Nashville General can weather this storm. In the meantime, I will continue to help my patients and my co-workers to the best of my God-given abilities by participating in my Union.”

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