Outsourcing outline includes job protection, draws protesters

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on Tuesday unveiled its “business justification” for a proposal to outsource building maintenance at state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, campus workers protested against the plan in the legislative office complex and outside the state Capitol with chants of “Tennessee is not for sale.”

The United Campus Workers have criticized what they call Haslam’s “outsourcing frenzy” for targeting benefits-paying jobs at public colleges and universities.

But Haslam’s outsourcing advisers and consultants say the plan could save $28 million on campuses each year, while protecting the jobs of all currently employed campus maintenance workers who are deemed to be “qualified and productive.”

“There will be no layoffs, nobody will lose their job because of this,” Haslam told reporters. “That’s somehow gotten lost in all of the discussion.”

The governor also said workers wouldn’t lose benefits and that salaries could even go up. The savings would come from increased bargaining power by contractors and from a decreased reliance on subcontracting, according to the Haslam administration.

Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville questioned in a hearing on the outsourcing plan whether a private group could get a better a deal than the state.

“We have a $33 billion undertaking as a state, that’s our budget,” he said. “So it strains credulity that someone is going to be able to negotiate from a greater position of efficiency.”

Republican Sen. Richard Briggs, whose district covers the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus in Knoxville, also raised concerns about that plan.

“Privatization is not necessarily going to accomplish the goals of effectiveness, accountability and efficiency,” Briggs said. “To date, I’ve not received any complaints from anyone at UT about the quality of the operations, or the maintenance or the services.

“On the contrary, I hear nothing but compliments,” he said.

Haslam has agreed to hold an outside review of the privatization plan before having Tennessee’s higher education systems decide whether to participate. Non-higher education buildings targeted for outsourcing would save about $8 million per year, according to the report.

Haslam said the privatization plan would help reduce the pressure to increase tuition.

“If I told the higher ed institutions we’re giving them back $28 million more this year, I would get round of applause from them if we can do that, he said.

Opponents of the outsourcing plan who packed the hallways of the legislative office complex for much of the day were not given time to speak at the committee where Haslam’s plan was presented.