Release of Tennessee Valley Authority's pay irks union

Release of Tennessee Valley Authority's pay irks union

March 2nd, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

The TVA headquarters building is located in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

A Tennessee Valley Authority engineers' union called the release of employee salaries to the Chattanooga Times Free Press Thursday "an unjust action" which could hurt TVA and its workers.

The Times Free Press asked for the publicly available information from TVA in December similar to requests the newspaper has made for employee salaries of other governmental agencies in Tennessee.

After TVA informed its employees it was releasing the pay data, several union leaders and TVA employees complained that disclosing the pay of the 12,800 TVA workers unnecessarily invades their privacy.

"[We] can find no reasonable justification for publishing this data other than to further perpetuate the false and misleading, yet brutal, attack on federal workers and their unions," Gay Henson, local president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said in a statement.

Henson, whose union represents about 2,600 TVA workers, said the newspaper could publish the number of employees holding certain positions and their salary ranges without identifying individual workers.

"I would not be opposed to giving market rates," she said. "To me, that's transparent."

On its Right2Know website, the Times Free Press already features the names and salaries of nearly 127,000 public employees from 64 colleges, hospitals, utilities, counties, cities and other government entities in Tennessee.

Salary information has been used in the past for stories about the highest-paid public officials in Chattanooga and how higher education salaries here compare to those of other systems, among other stories. The data has been on the Times Free Press website since 2010.

Alison Gerber, the paper's managing editor, said the paper plans to review the information from TVA.

"How we share it and what we share has yet to be determined," she said in a statement.

Concealing TVA employees' information would be unfair to others already up for public scrutiny, she said. The TVA data helps fill in the picture of where Tennessee residents' money goes.

Kent Middleton, a journalism professor and department head at the University of Georgia, said salary data is important for watchdog organizations. Poring over that type of information helps uncover pay disparities and issues such as nepotism or mismanagement.

TVA has recently come under scrutiny as it moves to streamline its personnel ranks and reduce its debt.

But whether a public organization has problems or not, Middleton said having a newspaper examine its financial information in detail can only lead to important stories.

"There's a story there if you confirm that it seems to being well run," he said. "I don't think reporters should necessarily believe they need to find corruption or waste to have a significant story."