Union blasts TVA for outsourcing IT work, laying off Chattanooga employees

The Tennessee Valley Authority building in downtown Chattanooga is shown in 2016. / Staff file photo
The Tennessee Valley Authority building in downtown Chattanooga is shown in 2016. / Staff file photo

One of the biggest labor unions representing workers at the Tennessee Valley Authority claims the federal utility is violating its own contracting guidelines and potentially weakening its cybersecurity by laying off TVA computer software specialists in Chattanooga and turning the work over to a French-based contractor.

In a letter to TVA, the president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Paul Shearon, said the move to outsource IT work in Chattanooga and phase out 120 TVA jobs "flies in the face of TVA's mission" to promote economic growth in the Valley.

Shearon said TVA signed a $15 million contract last September with Capgemini, a global company based in Paris that has 100,000 workers in India, to write new software for TVA prior to working with the union under the "Contract Decision Model" to consider different developer and program options.

"We want to make it clear that our members are more than capable of doing this work and doing it well," Shearon said in a letter to TVA Chairman James "Skip" Thompson. "TVA did not provide our members with the information needed to evaluate the outsourcing of these jobs and they did not identify a single penny of savings to TVA ratepayers."

TVA announced last month that it is moving to outsource about 20% of the jobs in its information technology office to help improve efficiency by using contract specialists that develop such software for multiple utilities.

Jeremy Fisher, vice president and chief information officer at TVA, said a study of TVA's IT work recommended the change in the way TVA had done virtually all of its software writing and development in-house for nearly four decades.

"The demand for technology has never been higher, but there is a natural constraint on that if you are trying to do everything in-house and on your own," Fisher told the Times Free Press last month "We're looking to leverage the market with people who have the expertise to help us deliver more technology to help move TVA along that path of continuous improvement."

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the utility has been communicating with union leaders "since the beginning of this process last year and have thoughtfully considered their input as decision were made."

"We continue to work with them to answer their questions, as well as the questions of the affected represented employees," he said.

In studying and making the changes over the past couple of years, Hopson said "we've followed, and in many cases exceeded, federal requirements related to ensuring work on sensitive data and processes remain within the U.S."

But union leaders questioned why TVA would use a foreign-based IT company, noting that outsourcing of IT jobs to companies with employees based overseas "has proven to be embarrassing to other utilities" such as Southern California Edison which required 400 of its workers to train their foreign replacements in 2015.

Gay Henson, president of the Engineering Association, IFPTE Local 1937, said "the outsourcing of tech jobs is a violation of TVA's goal of assisting state and local governments with economic development and job creation in the Valley and it violates pledges by the Trump administration to keep good-paying jobs here at home."

Henson said IFPTE plans to fight the layoffs through further negotiations with the utility, legal action and by reaching out to the Trump administration and members of Congress.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.