Protests planned against TVA for outsourcing jobs

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

One of the biggest employee unions at the Tennessee Valley Authority is planning demonstrations Tuesday in Knoxville and Wednesday in Chattanooga to protest the outsourcing of data programming jobs to outside contractors.

The Engineering Association, Local 1937, is setting up 220 cardboard silhouettes near TVA facilities in both cities to represent the local tech workers the union claims are losing their jobs due to outsourcing of IT work by America's biggest government utility.

TVA gave notice to 62 IT employees being laid off this month as the utility shifts more of its programming and data work to outside contractors. TVA previously cut or found other jobs for another 50 or so IT employees after their jobs were replaced by contractors hired to handle much of the programming previously done in-house at TVA.

The federal utility has contracted with CapGemini, which is based in France and has nearly half of its workforce in India, the Canadian-based CGI, and Accenture Federal Services, which is headquartered in Virginia and is a subsidiary of the Irish-based Accenture plc, for some of TVA's IT work. The union claims even more TVA jobs are on the chopping block due to the outsourcing of such work.

"It's outrageous that at a time of massive unemployment, with Congress spending trillions to get Americans back to work, a federal utility is sending jobs overseas to India, France and elsewhere," said Gay Henson, a TVA worker and president of the local Engineering Association union, which represents abut 2,500 workers at TVA.

"Sending crucial IT jobs overseas – and possibly compromising the security of our nation's electrical grid – would be a dumb idea any day of the week," Henson added. "To do it now, when millions of Americans are desperate for work, is worse than dumb. It's irresponsible."

TVA said all of the work will still be done in the United States and hiring the contractors is similar to what other utilities and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Navy, have already done.

"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," said Jeremy Fisher, vice president and chief information officer at TVA who has been studying the changes and working with employees and the Engineers Union for the past year. "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."

But Henson said TVA "has admitted that ratepayers will not save a single dollar" by outsourcing the work.

"TVA needs to stop these layoffs now," she said.

The Chattanooga protest is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday at Miller Park, just a couple of blocks from TVA's computer center where most of the utility's IT work is done.

A similar rally is planned Tuesday in downtown Knoxville near TVA's headquarters where protests are urging TVA to 'keep jobs local' during the current economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At Tuesday's rally, the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement will join with the Engineers Union, Jobs with Justice of East TN, Interfaith Worker Justice of East TN, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Science for the People – East Tennessee, and Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central Labor Council to call on TVA's CEO and board members halt to their outsourcing plans.

In an announcement of the event in Knoxville, organizers claim the outsourcing will cost the region $88 million "at a time when we see Depression era unemployment during a global pandemic. We find it heartless for TVA to add to these unprecedented numbers by eliminating jobs instead of preserving jobs," the group said.

U.S. Rep Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, also is supporting efforts in the coronavirus pandemic relief legislation to limit the ability of TVA to outsource jobs.

TVA said it is working with displaced workers to find other jobs, noting that nearly half of those whose jobs are being eliminated by the outsourcing have already either retired or found other work at TVA or other companies. Some of the contractors being hired by TVA are also interviewing some of the displaced workers, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said.

Earlier this month, TVA gave a 90-day notice of the pending layoffs for the 62 employees being idled due to the outsourcing of the work and will offer help this summer for those workers to find other jobs. Any laid off workers at TVA also will receive severance pay, Hopson said.