Following Governor Bill Haslam's State of the State address on Monday, January 28, 2013, members of United Campus Workers, the union of public higher education staff and faculty across Tennessee, are mobilizing for living wages and fair raises for every worker, and are concerned about problems of poverty, inequality, and cronyism. While Haslam's proposed budget includes a 1.5% raise for state workers, including those in both the state's higher education systems, the Governor highlighted his desire to move away from cost of living raises, and to instead emphasize so-called merit raise structures. But recent news that UT administrators stand to earn a million dollars in bonuses, and received millions of dollars in merit raises last year, has UCW members cautious to angry.
"Coach Derek Dooley gets a buyout of millions of dollars. UT administrators are promised a million dollars in bonuses. Governor Haslam encourages a transition away from raises to help everyday working people keep up with the cost of living in his State of the State address. And yet thousands of higher education workers across the state continue to make below, at, or just above the poverty line. What's wrong with that picture?" asked Thomas Walker, UCW executive board member from Knoxville and clerical workers at the UT College of Social Work. "It leaves you wondering if they have any idea what it's like for regular people struggling to get by."
Citing a lack of established, concrete metrics, fair and transparent procedures, lack of dues process, and a culture of cronyism that frequently rewards those who already make the most, UCW calls on the Governor, the legislature, and higher education administrators to distribute raise dollars fairly- and that means equally and across-the-board. Last year in the UT system, the top 100 merit raise earners brought home more than $1 million, with one person along receiving almost $28,000, while the bottom 100 merit raise earners brought home a total of about $10,600 combined.
"This nine cent, ten cent raise doesn't cut it; it isn't enough, with everything going up. I want the same things that Governor Haslam and the administrators want. I want to take care of my family just like they do, without having to work two jobs, " said Vivian Williams, University of Memphis custodian and UCW member.
While pleased that the Governor sees a need to continue to raise the low pay of the state's public servants, UCW is planning to advocate for policies that President Tom Anderson, of Facilities Services at UTK, describes as "the right thing to do. If you divided the pot equally, everyone would get something significant, especially us who need it most. Full time jobs should keep you out of poverty not in it, and until we can truthfully say that's the case we shouldn't even consider stuff like percentage raises and merit raises, which are demonstrated to disproportionately benefit the folks at the top while those of us at the bottom toil on with just a pittance."
For more information please contact:
Tom Anderson, UCW President- 865-934-7373, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Walker, UCW member- 865-776-3094, email@example.com
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