political action


SEIU Ramps Up Pressure About TIF & Corporate Welfare in Nashville!

Coming on the heels of a national article by In These Times magazine about Amazon which Local 205 participated in, union officials delivered a statement to the Metro Council’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Study Committee on March 6. The union’s statement is on YouTube and was read by SEIU’s political director Jason Freeman – here it is in its entirety:

When it comes to Tax Increment Financing in Davidson County moving forward, we have a few things you should consider.

First, TIF was originally conceived as a way to entice development in ‘blighted areas.’ The idea was to use the incentive to build parks/green space, sidewalks or other public goods that would make an area more desirable for developers. In Nashville, we generally seem to use TIF to subsidize construction loans. The city should focus on how to deliver public goods with TIF, not build a few extra floors on a high-rise that is already being built.

Second, in Nashville TIF has been used on a project-by-project basis, meaning the increment only comes from the single property. There was an effort to change this process to a large district which freezes property tax revenue from say a 30 square mile area for 30 years. This also creates a silo of funding that feels a bit like an end run around the capital improvement budget for projects only in that area. 

That becomes especially concerning when talking about replicating many of those districts around the city. The project-by-project model puts less of our future revenue at risk and gives the Council better oversight. TIF projects should, whenever possible, require approval by the council. Council should not give away it’s oversight on 30 years of property tax revenue for large sections of the city under any circumstance.

Third, the city of Nashville has a chronically underfunded school system whose scarce resources have been strained by Tax Increment Financing. Metro Schools is required to receive 40% of all the property tax revenue that comes into the city and until our investment in education matches our investment in tourism, we should not promise away one dollar of future revenue that is allocated for schools. If we continue to use TIF, it should only apply to the remaining increment after the schools get their funds.

Finally, at the current moment, the property tax revenues are at an arbitrarily low amount. This is a result of Council adopting the lowest property tax rate in the history of consolidated government. Promising away future property tax revenue from the current baseline would be irresponsible. The city is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, bringing into the question the need for these types of incentives in the first place, but our infrastructure is not growing. Needed investments in our city are not being made and we would argue that the focus of this council should be on fixing the current revenue shortage before promising any future revenues away. There is currently a voluntary freeze on Tax Increment Financing agreements until this committee makes its recommendations. This freeze should continue, and no Tax Increment Financing agreement should be considered until the council and the mayor’s office have restored the property tax rate to a normal level.

Thank you for your work and for taking input from the public. 

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SEIU Kicks Off Series of “Roundtable Conversations” About Growth & Budget in Nashville!

MetroBudget2019_GreenHills-With nearly a hundred people moving to “It City” every day, how can Nashville experience such rapid growth and yet still struggle with a revenue shortfall?

This was the topic of discussion at a community meeting held at J.T. Moore Middle School in Green Hills. Hosted by SEIU Local 205, the roundtable discussion featured perspectives from Metro Council members, labor leaders, and city employees who are dealing with the direct impact of an exploding city population using limited resources.

The discussion began with some sobering statistics. In the last decade, the city’s population has increased by over 17%. This population growth brings with it a host of issues that require local government services and people to provide them and yet, Metro departments have lagged far behind the city’s growth curve. Some city departments like Public Works have essentially the same number of employees as they did in 2008.

Despite Nashville’s population explosion, a development boom, an overall increase in property values, and job growth, Nashville ended up with a revenue shortfall last year which resulted in Metro Schools receiving about $37 million dollars less than they asked for. Metro Government employees, who rely on cost-of-living raises to keep up, watched as their COLA raise was taken away even though the council had voted to approve it the previous year.

Several Metro employees participated in the roundtable discussion and shared their perspectives on how growth and budget shortfalls are impacting their work and their families. Alisa Franklin, a call taker at the Department of Emergency Communications, described a high-stress environment that results in burnout and high turnover. “Some of our call takers are working 12 to 16 hour days to make sure the city is served properly,” Franklin said. “We’ve got people who do that on a daily basis because we are dedicated.” She also described the department’s struggle with retaining good people since their starting salary is only $15.60 in one the most expensive urban markets in the state. “It’s hard for us to keep people here because they can go to work somewhere else for the same money doing easier work and not have all the stress.”

Panelist Chris Gill is a paraprofessional working in Metro Nashville Public Schools and assists children with developmental disabilities. Gill, a former U.S. Army captain, questioned how he and his co-workers – many of whom have college educations – are able to live in Davidson County with a salary that forces many of them to have second jobs. “I love my job, but I shouldn’t have to take a second job to keep my first job,” Gill said. “Everyone says ‘we appreciate your service’, but if you really appreciate our service, pay us what we’re worth.”

Tyrone Jolley works for Metro Water Services in the Development Services division, which is ground zero for the development boom in Music City. His office deals with project engineering, planning, permits, and inspections. “On any day of the week, you can come down to our office at 7:30 am and see a line of people waiting to get in,” Jolley said. “We used to have some slow periods but we haven’t seen any of that in the past four years. It is non-stop.” Jolley, who’s worked for Metro Water for over 20 years, received no raise in 2018.

Watch the comments from SEIU members here

Mark Young, local president of the International Association of Firefighters and James Smallwood, local president of the Fraternal Order of Police joined in the discussion with equally powerful statistics and stories about how a lack of funding is impacting public safety in Nashville. Whether it’s not having enough fire stations or enough police officers on the street, the failure to adjust the property tax rate as well as ongoing tax incentives to large corporations like Amazon, HCA, and others are literally putting Nashvillians at risk. A similar sentiment came from Erick Huth, president of Metro Nashville Education Association, who talked about the impact funding is having on public education in Nashville.

Councilmembers Russ Pulley, Angie Henderson, and Burkley Allen, who represent districts across West Nashville, participated in the discussion as well. When last year’s budget was being voted on, both Pulley and Henderson voted against an amended budget ordinance which would have adjusted the property tax and fully-funded Metro Schools along with city employees’ cost-of-living raises. Councilwoman Allen voted for the amended budget ordinance but ultimately it failed to pass by one vote. During an open q&a session, several attendees expressed frustration with city officials for playing politics over budget items. “Thank you for the clarification that getting elected is more important than doing the job you were elected to do,” said Lilldeus Russell, a city employee and mother who also offered a suggestion to the council members. “If we stop giving away our city to businesses which don’t need [tax incentives] and actually take care of the people who voted you into office, we wouldn’t be in this place.”

SEIU Local 205 plans to host several more roundtables on growth and the city budget across Davidson County over the next few months. For more information on future events, contact the union at 615-227-5070.

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Local 205 Endorses Porterfield in Nashville Council Special Election!

Delishia Porterfield

Delishia Porterfield

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205 announces their endorsement of Delishia Porterfield for the Metro Council District 29 special election which is to be held on Feb 12, 2019.

Mrs. Porterfield is a special education coach for Metro Nashville Public Schools and is herself a union member with the Metro Nashville Education Association. She has been an active member of her community serving on the boards of local non-profit organizations working to empower and engage young people through education and mentorship. Delishia is committed to fully funding Metro Schools and supporting Metro employees who do the vital work of keeping the city running.

Porterfield and the other qualifying District 29 candidates were interviewed by a committee of union members who are residents of Davidson County and who work for Metro Government, Metro Nashville Public Schools or General Hospital.

Election Day for the District 29 special election is Tuesday, February 12, but early voting happens from January 23-Feb. 7. Complete information on early voting dates and voting locations is available from the Davidson County Election Commission at 615-862-8800.

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SEIU & Allies to Metro Council: “Keep Your Promises & Pay Your Bills” to City Employees!

City employees and allies deliver a "past due invoice" for unpaid raises to the Metro Council.

City employees and allies deliver a “past due invoice” for unpaid raises to the Metro Council.

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), presented the Metro Council with an “invoice” of $38 million, which the public sector unions say would make city employees whole after the Council reneged on a pay plan which included cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) in 2018 and 2019.

The General Government employee pay plan, which was developed after two years of study, was approved by the Metro Civil Service Commission and passed the Council by a vote of 34-1 in June, 2017. But last May, the mayor’s budget did not include the cost of living raises that were included in that pay plan, forcing the Council to write new ordinances that undid their previous vote on the pay plan.

Check out the complete video of the event.

The following remarks were made during the public comment period by Richard Tippit, a Metro employee who helped present the invoice to Metro Council members:

Members of Metro Council,

We’re here tonight to deliver you an invoice for services performed by the employees of Nashville Metro Government. In July of 2017, this Council passed a three-year pay plan that included annual cost of living adjustments. This pay plan was largely seen as attempting to make up for sacrifices made by Metro employees throughout the Great Recession.

Last year, because of a self-inflicted funding problem, this Council decided it wasn’t going to pay all of its bills. You paid every other bill – you even took on new bills – but you forgot to pay one of the most important. The men and women who keep the parks clean, keep our water running, keep the libraries open, repair our roads, pick-up our trash, answer 911 calls, put out the fires and keep our communities safe are owed a 3% cost of living adjustment for last year and a 3% adjustment for this year.

The total balance due is approximately $38 million in total, $18 million of that is past due. As you begin to discuss this year’s budget, you should know this bill remains unpaid, and your budgeting should start there.  Thank you.

Here’s a news report that aired on NewsChannel 5 featuring SEIU president Brad Rayson. Nashville Public Radio ran a brief report this morning as well.

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Spike In COPE Contributors Bolsters 2018 Political Program!

COPE_logo copyIn 2018, our local ran a member leadership program focused on growing our Committee On Political Engagement (COPE). COPE is how our members participate in politics and elections.

20 member leaders volunteered for trainings on talking to fellow members about voting, recruiting volunteers, signing up new COPE contributors, and using new communication tools. Overall, more than 120 new COPE contributors were signed up in 2018!

“The training was very informative and it caused me to realize my responsibility to help protect the progress our union has made by supporting political candidates and community organizations that share the same values as the working class and are working toward uplifting them,” said Laura Collison, a service advisor at Nashville Electric Service.

Our 2018 member leadership program was a huge success and we hope to build on that in this year’s local elections.

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“Fight for $15” Campaign Achieves Victory in Memphis!

SEIU members with international union president Mary Kay Henry (center) at a FF15 event in Memphis last spring.

SEIU members with international union president Mary Kay Henry (center) at a FF15 event in Memphis last spring.

Starting in January, Shelby County employees—including those working in Shelby County Schools—will be paid at least $15 an hour, thanks to a resolution and MOU passed by county mayor Lee Harris and other elected officials.

The move comes after the nationwide “Fight for $15” campaign that SEIU launched four years ago. In Memphis, Local 205 was a key partner in organizing FF15, which multiple events and visibility actions being organized and attended by SEIU members.

Under the new initiative, 340 active county employees will see their pay increase by January 1, 2019.

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Pro-Labor Candidates Pull Off Upsets in TN Thanks to SEIU Members’ Activism!

Gloria Johnson supported SEIU members working at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.

Gloria Johnson supported SEIU members working at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.

Two candidates supported by SEIU Local 205 won their races for the Tennessee House of Representatives on November 6.

Gloria Johnson won with 55% of the vote in the 13th district, which is located in Knox County, despite a series of ugly campaign ads by her Republican opponent, who was the sitting incumbent. Ms. Johnson supported SEIU during a difficult contract campaign at Methodist Medical College last year—appearing at multiple union actions including the Workers Rights Board.

Bob Freeman won his race for House District 56 in one of the most closely watched legislative races this year.  Freeman succeeds former House Speaker Beth Harwell in an historically Republican district in Davidson County which includes Belle Meade, Oak Hill, and Green Hills.

SEIU Local 205 members were active in these and other races this cycle (see sidebar) and were part of a targeted effort to elect more pro-worker candidates to office in 2018. Congratulations to the candidates and thanks to our members who helped!


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A Call for Justice & Action at Issues Forum in East TN!


A packed house at the “Liberty & Justice For All” forum on the UT campus.

SEIU members were there to lend their support and expertise to the new non-profit, non-partisan organization ACT-East Tennessee Strong United as it hosted its “Liberty and Justice For All” issues forum in Cox Auditorium on UT’s main campus.

The forum was attended by hundreds of citizens and students across East Tennessee as well as political candidates running for state and federal office, including gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean.

Jenna Rasnic, an ER nurse and union leader at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, was one of the presenters at the forum. She spoke from a healthcare perspective about the opioid epidemic that is tearing whole communities apart. Jenna has been active with ACT since its formation. “I never thought of myself as a leader, but through my involvement in our union and ACT is see that I can be,” she said.

Tracy Fair, a unit secretary and union steward at Methodist was also in attendance. “The most inspiring thing to me was looking at how committed the members of this organization were and their belief that they will and can make a true difference,” Tracy says.


SEIU leaders Jenna Rasnic & Tracy Fair

When the candidates in attendance who are running for state Senate, state House, Congress, and Governor were asked to support the group’s platform if elected, all said ‘yes’.

Many thought that the highlight of the day was a moving sermon by Father Bryant Stewart. “It set my heart singing when he did his call and response saying ‘I will vote’,” Jenna said. “My voice is pretty darn loud, but I got drowned out in the sea of voices! We were a deafening force.”

ACT-East Tennessee plans to continue meeting regularly on the fourth Thursday of each month. Find out more about them at their website or on their Facebook page.

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Election 2018: SEIU Endorses Gloria Johnson in State House District 13!

Political_GloriaJohnsonIn State House District 13, SEIU Local 205 has endorsed Gloria Johnson.

Gloria is a retired teacher running for the seat she previously won in 2012. Gloria’s family has deep roots in East Tennessee, and she is a graduate of Knox County schools and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. In the past few years, Gloria has been a tireless advocate for improving our health care system to ensure that every family can see a doctor when they need one.

“As a teacher, healthcare advocate, and legislator, Gloria has shown a deep commitment to public service in East Tennessee. She has been tireless in working to improve the lives of those around her, and we need her voice back in the legislature,” said Tracy Fair, a Health Unit Coordinator and SEIU member from Knoxville.

The general election is on Tuesday, November 6 and the last day to register to vote in this cycle is October 9. For information on voter registration and polling locations, contact your local county election commission or visit the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

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Election 2018: SEIU Supports Bob Freeman for State House District 56!

Political_BobFreemanIn House District 56, SEIU Local 205 has endorsed Bob Freeman.

Bob is a Nashville businessman running for the open seat left by former Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell. Bob is focusing his campaign on expanding access to healthcare, investing in infrastructure and combating the opioid crisis. Bob and his wife Rachel have been active members of their community and as a State Representative, we know Bob will make sure working families have a voice in the legislature.

“Bob Freeman is a life-long Tennessean who has volunteered for good causes in his community. Whether he was serving on the Davidson County Homelessness Commission or the Tennessee Environmental Council, Bob has worked help others and make Tennessee a better place to live,” said Russ Anthony, a social worker and President of SEIU Local 205’s State Council.

The general election is on Tuesday, November 6 and the last day to register to vote in this cycle is October 9. For information on voter registration and polling locations, contact your local county election commission or visit the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

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