Texas State Employees Union

A draft of the “UT Shared Services Plan,” designed to reduce costs at the University, outlines the elimination of 500 jobs and a centralization of certain university services, according to a draft of the plan obtained and distributed by the Texas State Employees Union.

The plan is set to go into effect as early as spring 2014 and would take four to five years to execute.

The goal, as outlined in the report, is to create this elimination mainly through attrition and retirement. University spokesman Gary Susswein confirmed the “UT Shared Services Plan” calls for the elimination of 500 jobs and said UT could not promise that layoffs would not take place to meet this quota.

The plan is a part of a larger report titled “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” which was put together by a group of prominent business leaders — many of them UT alumni — and released in January.

The draft of the plan states these job losses will occur in human resources, finance, procurement and information technology, as the University seeks to centralize the services offered. Currently, an estimated 4,500 people are employed in these fields. It states that by centralizing these services, there is a potential for improvements in the services’ organization and workforce impact  because of the creation of new career path options and a redefined focus on service and performance. It also indicates that this process will lead to the implementation of enabling technologies in these fields as well as employing leadership focused on making decisions with the community in mind.  

UT will have to invest somewhere between $160 million and $180 million in order to centralize these services, according to the plan. This money will go towards redesigning jobs and administrative organization, training employees and increasing use in technology and creating new capabilities within these services. It predicts the University will save $30 million to $40 million every year.

Since early this semester I’ve heard talk about privatization — from some, how awful it is, and from others, how great it is. Like many people, I had no idea what it meant for a school to undergo privatization and what it would mean for my education. So I read more into it and found some examples closer to home than I’d expected. At Texas A&M University, the school’s costs are expected to be reduced significantly by privatizing jobs and university operations such as housing and food services.

After UT President William Powers Jr. introduced the idea of “possibly taking advantage of outsourcing or privatization opportunities,” in a January 29 speech, I heard about a march and rally on April 10 against those changes. I went to check it out for myself to hear another point of view there.

Prior to the march, I interviewed Lucian Villasenor, an ethnic studies senior and one of the organizers of the rally. We discussed the troubling parts of Powers’ speech, such as exploring the privatization of housing, food and parking, and the failure to convincingly answer the questions most frequently asked, by students — is my tuition going to increase? — and by University employees — is my job safe?

The march took place on a rainy Wednesday. It grew from a small quiet crowd at the Student Activities Center into a loud protest. 

Marching down Speedway and on toward the Capitol, students and members of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) recited chants like, “They say privatize, we say fight back!” and, “Hey, Powers, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should!”

At the Capitol, those who took part in the march joined other members already stationed outside. Because TSEU is part of Communication Workers of America — a national organization — many from outside UT marched and rallied as well, in the hopes that their voices would be heard.

Some feared what privatization would mean for their job security. Michael Corwin, a member of TSEU and the UT Briscoe Center’s Technical Services coordinator, confessed that even though he thinks his job is “relatively safe,” the possibility of losing it scared him.

Many students attended the march because they fear tuition increases. Some questioned whether they could afford to continue attending the University. Other students marched and rallied because even though an increase in tuition would not affect them directly, it has the potential to affect other students facing financial troubles.

During the march I could feel the frustrations of those marching, and I saw firsthand how dedicated some students and workers were to their cause. To them, this privatization proposal is more than just a plan to reduce costs, it’s a plan that threatens their financial lives. At several points, even when it was just a small crowd at the SAC, the tension between UT security and staff and those marching was palpable. After the march and after sufficient research into privatization, I believe that privatization is not the right step for our school to take, and I hope that students become more informed about the changes that our University faces. 

As a student, I want a plan that takes students and their education into account and minimizes the amount of jobs lost. Although I understand there is a financial struggle at the University, and the draw of the prospect of cost savings that A&M forecasts it will achieve with privatization, I simply want some sort of coordination so that I don’t feel as if things are being changed and done without considering job and tuition stability first. 

 Cano is an undergraduate studies freshman from Austin.

Miguel Ferguson, a Professor from the School of Social Work at UT along with fellow panel members Anne Lewis, Michelle Uche, and moderator Lucian Villasenor discuss their opposition to proposed cost raises and employee cutbacks cited in a privatization plan at the Union Wednesday evening.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Student groups and members of the Texas State Employees Union gathered in the Texas Union Building on Wednesday to voice their opposition to a plan by a committee working for President William Powers Jr.

The plan, released Jan. 29 and titled “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” proposes cost hikes on food, housing and other services, employee cutbacks and increased uses of assets like UT’s power plant, which it claims could create a combined $490 million for the University. Powers also spoke on the plan at the time of its release.

“We’re not at all convinced that the University is going to save money by this deal,” said Anne Lewis, radio-television-film senior lecturer and representative for the Texas State Employees Union.

Lewis said she is afraid that housing, food and parking will be privatized, a possibility that the committee raised in its report. Should they be privatized, Lewis said, employees would suffer and so would service.

“We really believe there’s some very big questions about the quality of service [for students] given the profit model operating in what is a nonprofit institution,” she said.

She said she believes the cutbacks could be self-defeating, as worker performance in areas like housing and food were affected by reduced pay.

Miguel Ferguson, a social work associate professor who also spoke at the event, said he believed the University can find the money it needs elsewhere in its budget.

“It doesn’t seem right that we can spend millions on a jumbotron and yet not have enough money to pay a decent wage and provide some decent benefits,” Ferguson said. “Our own interest is in having a healthy workforce here on campus ... it seems unconscionable that those are the very people we seek to burden and shift the cost on their backs.”

Michelle Uche, a student representative of the International Socialist Organization, questioned the benefit of raising prices on UT students. Uche pointed to proposed price hikes, like proposals to increase campus parking and food prices to market rates. The committee recommended a 5 percent per year increase for 10 years on food prices and a 7.5 percent per year increase for 15 years on parking prices.

“One issue that comes up frequently with students I talk to is that ‘The increases will be manageable,’” Uche said. “It’s going to be a big deal for people who are attending the University after us.”

Representatives from the Texas State Employees Union urged students to speak out against job privatization Thursday night.

Photo Credit: Taylor Barron | Daily Texan Staff

Following the privatization of more than 1,500 jobs at Texas A&M University this summer and thousands of other positions across the state, UT students are working with state-worker advocacy agencies as a measure to prevent the same from happening at UT.

Members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops are collecting signatures on a petition started by the Texas State Employees Union with the goal of restoring funding cuts to higher education during the 82nd state legislative session. According to the petition, the funding cut during the 2011 Texas legislative session led to “radical increases in tuition and fees charged to students and forced the elimination of thousands of university teaching and staff positions” statewide.
Representatives from the organizations said they fear widespread privatization of staff jobs at UT.

“The only thing you have to be afraid of is if you don’t do anything, you are going to get hit in the head,” Jim Branson, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union, said. “There is no such thing as hiding when this kind of thing goes down. There is not hiding. They will privatize and they will not spare anyone.”

Ted Hooker, organizer for the Texas State Employees Union, said the petition has received roughly 5,000 signatures so far statewide.

Branson said one of the best things UT workers can do to protect themselves from privatization is to join a union. He said only about 700 UT workers have joined the Texas State Employee Union.

Christine Williams, sociology professor and department chair, said joining a union and speaking out about University injustices isn’t always easy to do for many at UT.

“If workers make noise, they get fired, unless they are tenured professors,” Williams said. “That’s why it’s so important that students speak out, because they are not going to fire you. They need you and your tuition.”

UT spokesperson Rhonda Weldon said there are no official regulations at UT prohibiting employees from joining unions, and if informal actions were taken to prevent unionization, the administration would want to stop it.

Weldon said the only recent job privatization at UT was for 36 custodial workers at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus earlier this year. She said no employees lost their jobs in that process, and the 36 workers were transferred to the main campus.

Weldon said the move helped Facilities Services achieve the University-mandated 2 percent self-funded contingency reserve, a fund set aside to pay for future issues.

Branson said although privatization is not currently rampant at UT, it could occur quickly. He said members of the UT community should come together now to prevent it by taking action including joining unions, speaking out and signing the petition.

With Texas legislators looking for ways to trim spending for the January legislative session, retirement plans for new UT faculty and staff may look more like 401(k) plans than the predetermined pension plans state employees currently receive.

The proposed defined contribution plan for public employees would work much in the way a 401(k) plan does, guaranteeing a set pension after retirement based on salary and years of service. 401(k) retirement accounts are savings plans into which employees and their employers deposit money to be withdrawn after retirement. Jim Branson, an organizer for the Texas State Employees Union, said these benefits can attract individuals to state employment.

Branson said many choose to work in the private sector because of the higher salaries.

“It is not fair,” Branson said. “Employees want an idea that when they retire, they will have something there.”

Under the predetermined state plan, UT employees receive a set pension payment after retirement, determined by salary and years of service. While the university’s employees all fall under the plan, UT is a public institution and is not involved in determining the plan. Branson said the union does not have an antagonistic relationship with UT.

The union’s UT chapter recruited University employees Thursday in front of the Perry-Castañeda Library. With 12,000 members, the Texas State Employees Union is the largest public employees union in Texas and the UT chapter is several hundred strong, Branson said. Members advocate for higher wages, benefits, health care and pensions.

“For workplaces to have any kind of security is a result of union work,” Branson said. “We are protecting what people struggled to win.”

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston, said a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday regarding the state retirement plan will illuminate what changes need to be made. Hernandez Luna, a member of the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee, said the current predetermined plan will remain effective through 2075 for current employees. New employee retirement plans would be the plans adjusted to the defined contribution format, the plan similar to a 401(k).

“We expect a lot of testimony,” Hernandez Luna said. “The defined contribution plan is a transfer of risk from the employer to the employee.”

Hernandez Luna said the defined contribution plan is one of many potential new plans. At this point, she said it is unclear whether the contribution plan would reduce the state’s retirement plan expenses.

“If the Texas State Employees Union is on campus raising awareness, I think that is great because everyone should be concerned about what their legislature is doing,” Hernandez Luna said.

The union relies on members’ dues, which is the only way half of union members participate, Branson said. Other members, including library assistant Kathryn Kenefick, table on campus and visit legislators at the state Capitol on behalf of the union.

Kenefick said she joined to have more influence on the system that employs her.

“Unions help by specifying work conditions and strengthening the infrastructure so employees can work with confidence and security,” Kenefick said.

Teri Adams and members of the Texas State Employees Union, who want full public funding for higher education, speak out against University-wide budget cuts during a protest in the West Mall Thursday.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Members of the Texas State Employees Union rallied for full public funding of higher education at West Mall.

By holding the rally, members of the union hoped to gain members and add signatures to their petition aimed at convincing the state Legislature to cease further financial cuts to education, said Anne Lewis, UT senior lecturer and representative for the TSEU.

Lewis said the group is primarily concerned with stopping proposed tuition increases at the University. During the rally, participants said “stop the addiction to increased tuition,” expressing their opposition to any existing proposals.

The McCombs School of Business’ College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committee has discussed propositions this month to increase tuition for residents by $160 each semester and slightly more than four times that amount for non-residents, news that Lewis said she found distressing.

She said the group also hopes to limit staff layoffs and cuts to faculty and staff health care.

“There’s a lot of optimism in our group, and as far as we’re concerned, everything can be reversed,” Lewis said. “Our large campus has so much responsibility — with 50,000 students and 12,000 to 14,000 employed.”

Founded in 1980, TSEU has succeeded in passing numerous grievances in the Legislature. In 2003, the union halted cuts in graduate student workers’ health benefits, a goal that Lewis said the TSEU was alone in fighting for.

After the rally, the TSEU held a discussion panel to clarify the immediate goals of the union with the rally attendees.

One of the speakers, assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi, said the way education is heading seems to be similar to the direction of giant corporations like Wal-Mart, with students as the commodity.

“Public education was meant to give opportunity to rise out of the lower classes,” Shingavi said. “Instead, it’s just a cash cow.”

UT alumnus Will Roger, a union member since 1983, said the state believed in investing in students when he attended college in the 1960s and the increases in tuition since then make no sense.

“Because of my education, I was able to get a decent job, raise a family, pay my taxes and generally repay the public investment that the state made in me,” Roger said.

Another main concern of the union was stated in their chant “they say privatize — we say unionize.” TSEU lead organizer Jim Branson said one of his main concerns is keeping education away from the private sector.

“It’s time that public universities 

Printed on Friday, October 14, 2011 as: State employees rally for higher tuition, staff layoffs

I received an email last week from UT President Bill Powers Jr. You probably got one, too. The letter announced the more-or-less final figures for state budget cuts in funding for the University. The 2012-13 budget for UT will be reduced 16.5 percent from the original 2010-11 budget, a loss of $92.1 million.

In addition to requiring layoffs and heavy cuts to core University programs, the budget will see our insurance costs — premiums, deductibles and co-pays — rise significantly. In spite of the fact that increasing tax revenue or using the state’s Rainy Day Fund would end our budget woes, UT will likely decrease its contribution to our retirement plans. What’s more, the special session of the Texas Legislature is still considering furloughs and permanent salary cuts for faculty and staff. It is worth noting that UT has already made $14 million in cuts since 2009.

Even as Powers stressed the University is prepared to take these hits, the fact of the matter is we are going to feel the pain. We are not alone. At state universities across Texas — and across the country — legislators are imposing serious funding cuts that affect faculty and staff salary and benefits, class sizes, lab and equipment availability, libraries and other resources, and many other areas that have made our institutions great.

Such cuts are often justified by specious studies claiming faculty don’t work hard enough (as if summers were for vacation as opposed to periods of high-pressure research productivity) or that we should measure the success of the University in numerical terms (numbers of students taught in ever larger classes, graduation rates) rather than intellectual ones (research breakthroughs made, students inspired to pursue knowledge, creation of an open community of inquiry and debate).

The question then becomes how do we fight back? How do we insist on the value of higher education in Texas? How do we defend our standard of living? How can we reach the Legislature with our message?

Here’s one good answer to these questions: Join the Texas State Employees Union.

Historically, unions have been workers’ best line of defense against the erosion of workplace rights, safety, wages, benefits and pensions. The Economic Policy Institute has documented the advantages of being in a union: higher wages, more and better benefits, more effective utilization of social insurance programs, more effective enforcement of legislated labor protections, health and overtime regulations, and a strong work force in politics and the broader community. Evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows unionized workers earn more and have a higher standard of living than non-unionized workers (2008 median weekly income for the unionized worker was $880 versus $690 for non-unionized).

Many UT workers don’t know they have a union available to them; one that has defended the rights of faculty and staff for the past three decades. Since 1981, the union has won pay raises for University workers across the UT and A&M systems, established our right to testify in the Legislature, stopped numerous pay freezes, defended health care and pensions and fought off budget cuts and privatization. For example, in 2007, the union won a 4-percent across-the-board raise over two years for all state employees, including University workers.

The union includes state workers across all state institutions from higher education to agencies overseeing health and human services for all Texans. In standing with these workers, and they with us, we create a solidarity that is the basis of our voice and power. At the University, the union’s ranks include hundreds of faculty, graduate instructors, custodians, nurses, administrative employees, security officers, maintenance employees and countless others who are essential to maintaining quality higher education in Texas.

The mission statement of the union’s University Caucus pledges to advocate for pay raises, affordable health care and a secure pension fund. The statement reads, “We will ensure that our voices are heard as decisions that affect us are made at the state, university, and departmental level. We want true Jobs with Justice, where our input is listened to and we are respected for the work we do. Equal treatment and access to real due process are key aspects of our vision of democracy at work.”

Included in this vision of democracy is support for equal insurance benefits for all UT families, including those of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. UT employees committed to winning equal insurance benefits should join and support the union as an important ally.

At the Capitol, it’s been a daunting legislative session, but the University Caucus of the union set as its 2011 legislative goals to fight furloughs of faculty and staff, defend state funding to keep public education public and increase instructional worker (faculty and graduate student teachers) job security and benefits. We will not win these demands this year, but it’s not for lack of advocacy. It takes sustained organization and continual pressure to defend our work and our livelihoods. The more University workers join the union, the more powerful our voice becomes in the long term in asking politicians to respect our work and prioritize our needs.

In these tough times (which are not likely to end soon), we need the union. Please join the union to make it, and us, stronger. For more information and to join, go to http://www.cwa-tseu.org/.

Cloud is an associate communication studies professor.

82nd Legislature

A multicolored sea of more than 5,000 T-shirts representing more than 60 organizations flooded the Capitol steps Wednesday as people rallied against proposed state budget cuts.

The Save Our State Rally brought together various organizations to respond to the proposed state budget cuts that threaten state education and various state services, said Kim Garcia, one of three Texas State Employees Union organizers who recruits UT members.

“It takes months of planning and help from multiple organizations to make this happen,” Garcia said. “It was nice to see representatives such as Sylvester Turner [D-Houston] who worked to get a bus of constituents in his district to come tothe rally.”

The rally began with a morning march from Waterloo Park to the state Capitol, followed by a series of speeches by community and organization members. The groups organized it in response to the $164.5 billion budget bill the House passed Sunday that cut the state budget by about 12 percent for the next

History senior Matthew Beamesderfer said he was one of 20 UT students and workers who started a joint march at UT, walking from Littlefield Fountain to join the official group at Waterloo Park.

“We’ve been doing work against the proposed budget cuts at UT, organizing protests around campus,” Beamesderfer said. “We are here to oppose the cuts that are going on in the state of Texas and that are going on at UT.”

Beamesderfer said he believes the simple solution to the lack of money is ending America’s wars and taxing the rich.

Garcia said she was also a part of the feeder march and was glad to see different people from various university departments come

“About 50 percent of Texas employees come from universities, but unfortunately presence in union numbers does not reflect that,” Garcia said. “If university workers realized the power they have, they could get a lot done. They have a voice; it’s just very scattered. If we could get it under one umbrella they could make a big difference.”

Derrick Osobase, political organizer for the Committee on Political Education, an organization that contributes to campaigns of candidates in support of helping state workers, said he sees no reason to make such extreme budget cuts when many sources of money are available for use.

“Tell them it’s raining now and the Rainy Day Fund needs to be used,” Osobase said. “Tell them there’s federal money. Go use it.”

After the rally, participants were invited to enter the Capitol to speak to the representatives of their districts.

Jonathan Poe, a member of Texas State Employees Union, said he wanted his representatives to hear personal testimony from as many people as possible for maximum effect.

“They are talking about cutting 80 percent of nursing homes, will lay off 100,000 teachers and are basically going to decimate state services,” Poe said. “This is going to hurt our economy and it is going to hurt people.”