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How a Scrappy Campus Union Saved Tennessee From Privatization

March 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Chris Brooks, Rebecca Kolins Givan, In These Times

The southern victory could be a blueprint for defending the public sector.

Taking the podium in her freshly pressed, light-blue work uniform, Doris Conley looked out onto the faces of the Memphis City Council.

For 17 years she has worked as a custodian at the Child Research Center at the University of Memphis. Her days start early, at 5:30 a.m., and she will have cleaned and sanitized three sets of bathrooms, four classrooms and the kitchen before 85 children arrive at 8. She spends the rest of the day running between two buildings, cleaning up messes and helping the teachers manage the children. It’s a tough job, but one the 64-year-old loves and takes pride in.

It’s also a job that she and her family rely on. Conley’s husband passed away in 2016, and her income has to stretch far enough to provide for herself and the granddaughter she is helping to raise.

Which is why, after a long day on her feet in September 2017, the lifelong Memphian was moved to tears as she explained her situation to the Council: “The state is trying to sell me and my co-workers out to a private company.”

Two years earlier, Tennessee’s billionaire Republican governor, Bill Haslam, had secretly convened a committee of highly paid government appointees and corporations, with the goal of concocting a state-wide privatization plan.

The committee said it was using “vested outsourcing,” a controversial process in which the corporations that want to bid for a public contract work with government leaders to draft it. The resulting $1.9 billion contract was the largest in Tennessee government history, and privatized the maintenance and management of up to 90 percent of state-run facilities, including state and university buildings. It was awarded to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a multinational with a history of bribery accusations.

The contract specified that all state employees at outsourced facilities would have to reapply for their positions. JLL could impose any background checks or drug tests it chose. The company also had the discretion to transfer rehired employees to positions up to 50 miles away. Employees would also immediately see higher …read more


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