published Saturday, July 26th, 2014

TVA ends LiveWell program, closes employee gyms to cut costs

  • photo
    Tennessee Valley Authority employees work out on cardiovascular equipment in TVA Live Well center. TVA is closing most of its gyms.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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The Tennessee Valley Authority is shuttering its award-winning LiveWell program and closing most of its employee fitness centers as part of the utility's ongoing efforts to trim $500 million in annual operating expenses.

TVA began moving exercise equipment out of the LiveWell center at the Chattanooga Office Complex Friday and plans to close most of the rest of its gyms and workout facilities next month.

TVA, which has operated LiveWell Centers at 37 office and plant sites since 1990, will maintain fitness centers only at its three nuclear power plants. The fitness centers at the Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry plants will no longer operate with corporate support as LiveWell facilities, TVA officials said.

"We've had to take a hard look at changing the way we do business, focusing on our core mission and how we can work safer, better, faster and leaner," Wilson Taylor, interim vice president of compensation and benefits at TVA, said in a memo to employees. "It has also meant taking a look at those facilities that aren't core to our business and deciding where some sacrifices will have to be made."

TVA has set a goal of cutting annual operating expenses by $500 million a year by 2015, and TVA President Bill Johnson concluded that the fitness centers cost too much to staff and maintain. TVA is eliminating several hundred jobs this year through a voluntary reduction in force and is cutting some programs to help bring its costs more in line with other Southern electric utilities.

TVA's LiveWell program was recognized in the past as a Gold Level achiever by the Wellness Councils of America. Over most of the past two decades, the federal utility has offered its employees and retirees free exercise facilities and showers as well as health risk screenings and wellness programs.

"It's been a great program to help alot of employees stay in shape and keep healthy and it's disappointing to see it now go away," said David Dinse, a 33-year TVA employee who will retire from the utility at the end of the current fiscal year.

Lindy Johnson, another TVA employee who regularly used the LiveWell center in Chattanooga, wrote to President Obama last month to question why TVA was cutting back on employee wellness programs while it was making other improvements in its 28-year-old Chattanooga Office Complex.

"New carpet appears to be in the works in the gigantic Chattanooga office complex and TVA is remodeling the atirum areas with more high-priced finishes to come," she wrote in her letter. "This sends mixed messages to employees about cutting costs and what is important."

But in a meeting with employees in April, TVA President Bill Johnson said the LiveWell facilities haven't been adequately maintained and would be expensive to repair for the declining number of employees who use the exercise equipment.

"The LiveWell centers are in terrible shape," Johnson said. "In fact, in my view, they are safety hazards."

With TVA rates rising faster than other utilities in the past decade, Johnson said TVA needs to tighten its belt to control expenses and can't afford to repair and maintain the fitness facilities, which he said are used by less than 10 percent of TVA's staff.

"Somewhere in Tennessee, there's an elderly man or woman of modest mans living in substandard housing who has opened a $350 electric bill," Johnson said, according to a transcript of a Knoxville employees meeting. "I don't want to have to explain to that person that I had to spend their money to provide us with a gym...that they don't have."

Johnson said most TVA employees have access to other fitness facilities in Chattanooga, Knoxville and other TVA sites.

TVA said employees and retirees can continue to access fitness facilities at the nuclear plants and the utility will continue to provide health screenings and preventative health care benefits through its health insurance plans. Nursing mothers, who previously had a room available for them in the LiveWell centers, will be relocated elsewhere, according to a TVA Today memo this week.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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