University of Tennessee employees campaign for flat-rate raise, 2004-2007

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Timing
Time Period:  
October
2004
to
June
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Tennessee
Location Description: 
University of Tennessee (Knoxville, Chattanooga)
Goals: 
The United Campus Workers’ “UT Workers Need a Raise” campaign had the goal of a $1,200 across-the-board pay raise for all University of Tennessee employees.

In reaction to the institution of a merit-pay system, they became committed to guaranteeing public higher education employees living-wage raises before any funding would be set aside for “merit pay.”

 

A 2002 study found that 68% of the 2,100 hourly Tennessee public higher education employees were being paid less than a living wage of $9.50 per hour with benefits. Earning less than a living wage could force an employee to rely on public subsidies for food, healthcare, or housing. Inspired by this and similar statistics, United Campus Workers (UCW), which recently merged with the Communication Workers Association, launched its “UT Workers Need a Raise” campaign in October 2004, with the goal of a $1,200 across-the-board pay raise for all University of Tennessee employees. UCW’s approximately 180 members considered flat-rate raises fairer than percentage raises, as percentage wages would favor higher-paid workers by rewarding them a larger raise than lower-paid workers. For example, the proposed 2% pay raise of 2004 would increase a $7.00/hour salary to $7.14 per hour, accumulating an additional $5.60 in a forty-hour work week; while the $40.00 per hour salary would increase to $40.80 and accumulate an additional $32.00 per week.

In 2004, the Tennessee legislature released an unfunded mandate for a 2% pay raise for University of Tennessee employees. Unimpressed with this outcome, UCW held a picnic in Knoxville to launch their campaign. The picnic drew more than one hundred members and supporters, including members of the Progressive Student Alliance.

In January 2005, United Campus Workers (UCW) introduced a bill to the Tennessee state legislature that would grant a $1,200 raise to all public higher education employees. The bill stalled, leading UCW to hold a “Speak Out” event in April for workers to voice their concerns, many of which pertained to under-payment. Pat McDaniel, executive board member of UCW, recognized that they needed to persistently build awareness of their campaign. The UCW’s bill did not pass, but was historic as the first attempt of University of Tennessee employees to raise their wages through legislation.

During the same legislative session, UT president John Petersen introduced a motion to substitute merit-based rewards for UT faculty's cost-of-living raises. President Petersen's initiative received criticism from UCW because of ambiguity about how merit would be evaluated. Nonetheless, the "pay for performance" initiative passed, and resulted in a split of the 2005 3% across-the-board pay raise into 1.5% for an across-the-board pay raise and 1.5% for "merit pay." Due to their frustration with the “merit pay” system, full allocation of cost-of-living percentage raise to employees became a secondary goal of UCW. That year, UCW lobbied successfully in support of a flat-dollar minimum raise such that public higher education employees would receive the greater of $750 or a 3% pay raise. The 3% pay raise was equal to that received by all other public employees.

The Appropriations Bill of 2006 was another disappointment for UCW in that it further lowered the pay raise for Tennessee’s employees to 2%. This percentage was again split in half to accommodate the new merit-based pay system. In response, the UCW lobbied the state legislature for a flat-dollar minimum raise. The bill included a flat rate ($600) raise for those with annual salaries less than $30,000.

The originally proposed budget for 2007 included only a 1% raise for University of Tennessee employees, contrasting with the 5% raise that was recommended by the UT board. UCW, with over 500 members in the UT system, mobilized in response. In March 13, 2007, they organized a lobby day in the capitol in Nashville, bringing almost fifty UT employees and students from the Progressive Students Alliance to collectively lobby. The campaigners had over fifty meetings with state representatives and senators, demanding the full 5% raise with a flat dollar minimum, an end to the “merit pay” system, and an equal percentage raise to other public employees. The UCW was pleased to be recognized by public officials for the first time on this lobby day.

Following this day of escalated political action, UCW continued to apply pressure to the state through written communications. UCW members in Knoxville and Chattanooga sent almost one thousand letters and emails to Senator Jamie Woodson. Between March and the session’s conclusion, UCW organized several lower-profile lobby days in Nashville and maintained communication with members of the Tennessee General Assembly to stay updated on the content of the budget. As a final escalation, they barraged state legislators with hundreds of emails. Pat Kerschieter, vice president of the UCW’s Knoxville chapter, described their efforts in 2007 as also including writing and calling legislators. The UCW was not alone in its efforts; UT President Petersen spent on average two days a week in Nashville lobbying for the full 5% pay raise to be included in the state budget.

In the approved 2007 budget, public higher education employees received the full percentage raise, including any cost-of-living raises, before any additional funding could be set aside for Petersen's merit-based program. The resulting 3% raise matched that awarded to other public employees and included an augmented flat-dollar minimum raise of $900 awarded to a larger portion of employees.

On their website, UCW takes credit for the inclusion of a $900 floor raise, an upper limit of $30,000 annual salary for receipt of this $900, and full allocation of the percentage raise to employees rather than to the merit pay program in the 2007 allocation bill. Senator Jamie Woodson attributed the increased benefits of 2007 to the UCW campaign. The UCW website celebrates the termination of President Petersen’s merit-pay system as the campaign’s most noteworthy impact. However, the campaign did not achieve its goal of a $1,200 across-the-board raise, and criticized the $900 or 3% raise as barely keeping up with inflation.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Alexander, Erin. "UT employees address concerns, awareness." The Daily Beacon [Knoxville, TN] n.d.: n. pag. University of Tennessee, 06 Apr. 2005. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://utdailybeacon.com/news/2005/apr/6/ut-employees-address-concerns-awareness/>.

Dunlap, Darren. "Trustees Studying Salaries at UT." Knoxnews.com. Scripps Newspaper Group- Online, 22 Nov. 2007. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2007/nov/22/rustees-studying-salaries-ut/?print=1>.

Dunlap, Darren. "UT raises, projects funded in state plans: University president praises support; key capital construction in works." Knoxnews.com. Scripps Newspaper Group- Online, 15 June 2007. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2007/jun/15/ut-raises-projects-funded-in-state-plans/?print=1>.

Dunlap, Darren. "UT Rules Knox Pay List: Administrator Quantity Spurs Debate as Campus Deals with Budget Cuts." Knoxnews.com. Scripps Newspaper Group - Online, 29 June 2008. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/jun/29/ut-rules-knox-pay-list/?print=1>.

Haman Ansley. "Employees campaign for fair pay." The Daily Beacon [Knoxville, TN] n.d.: n. pag. University of Tennessee, 11 Oct. 2004. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://utdailybeacon.com/news/2004/oct/11/employees-campaign-for-fair-pay/>.

Morton, Jesse. "UT Employees Obtain Raise." The Daily Beacon [Knoxville, TN] n.d.: n. pag. University of Tennessee, 06 Aug. 2005. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://utdailybeacon.com/news/2004/aug/14/ut-employees-obtain-raise/>.

"Our View: Cut from the Top." The Daily Beacon [Knoxville, TN] n.d.: n. pag. University of Tennessee, 4 Mar. 2004. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <https://utdailybeacon.com/opinion/editorials/2004/mar/4/cut-from-the-top/>.

Smith, Tim. "Bredesen’s proposal for pay raise draws criticism." The Daily Beacon [Knoxville, TN] n.d.: n. pag. University of Tennessee, 05 Mar. 2007. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://utdailybeacon.com/news/2007/mar/5/bredesens-proposal-for-pay-raise-draws-criticism/>.

United Campus Workers, Tennessee's Higher Education Union. UCW-CWA, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://ucw-cwa.org>.

Additional Notes: 
The UT administration can make recommendations to the state legislature with regards to the raises to be included in the budget. However, the UCW did not seem to target the university administration but rather focused its pressure on the Tennessee legislature, particularly on Senator Jamie Woodson during the 6th segment. However, the justification for using Woodson as a target is unclear.

In 2007, State Representative and Budget Committee Chairman Harry Tindell is quoted on the UCW website (http://ucw-cwa.org) as stating: ”Giving a 3% cost of living increase or $900 to ALL employees is directly attributable to the work of UCW and UT working together on behalf of higher education employees.” UCW also quotes Senator Jamie Woodson in claiming their victory: “The effective combination of the leadership of President Petersen, an outstanding grassroots organization by campus workers and a supportive local delegation, produced very positive results. This success is proof positive that thoughtful citizens getting involved truly does work.”

Though the campaign started as one for change, it became one of defense, since it celebrated the termination of the merit-pay system.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Laura Rigell, 03/02/2013